Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Lion City: quietly opening the door for Chinese Triads?

Singapore's first casino opened its doors on Sunday, February 14, to coincide with the Chinese New Year. Media reports indicate that in two days the home of Resorts World Sentosa, Sentosa island saw almost 150,000 visitors. In the same period, 35,000 people entered the casino and gaming parlours.
Despite the controversies surrounding the dress code (are sandals permitted or not?) and the queues, most will consider the inauguration a success. However, the triumph of the casino and its positive impacts on the domestic economy cannot be based on one weekend. It will be many years before meaningful analysis provides insightful analysis.
The media images pertaining to the casino do little to inspire confidence that Singapore's brand image will be unaffected by the presence of licensed 'gambling dens' in the city.
And first impressions matter.
Photographs and television reports portend that an increase in the 'sleaze factor' is a real danger. The casino entrance resembled a bus station in a rural third world nation; not that of an establishment which bans sandals and shorts. People were lying around on expensive flooring. Many were disappointed with preparations and the long wait to enter, sometimes as long as two hours.
Legitimate gambling introduces a new social dynamic to Singapore. The dangers to the city's brand are several and real.
Gambling often creates an environment in which prostitution and other vices thrive, an environment which is a natural magnet for organized crime.
Organized crime can potentially subvert incorruptible bureaucracies. Organized crime also has a long history in the region (Macau, Hong Kong) with the Chinese triads. Much like religious extremism, organized crime is a cancer which requires only a small toehold to take root. After the initial beachhead, only time and patience is necessary.
If the city becomes a playground for the rich and famous, the social repercussion may place pressure on the government. Jobs and increased visitor numbers may not be enough to counter economic inequities perceived by the average Singaporean.
Already, using the 'Gini coefficient' as a measure of income distribution and inequality Singapore has one of the highest rates of disparity in the developed world. Having billionaires flaunt their wealth may only add to the populations recent frustrations of watching state subsidized residential unit prices increase beyond the reach of many.
One should not assume 'it [crime, corruption and popular discontent] won't happen in Singapore.' Anything is possible anywhere.
Much has dramatically changed in the world in the last few decades, including the demise of the communist East Bloc

In the 1960s, Sri Lanka was held up as a model for economic development. In the 1980s, private enterprise was absent from Red China. The Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie were as real and recent as South Africa's apartheid regime.
If change is not managed well, only historians are left studying the reasons for failure. Singapore is much too young for historians to examine.


  1. For the people who decided to open the casino, one word will make your article worthless (never mind whatever points you brought up) - MONEY.

    SIN city indeed. ;)

  2. Hi Jezebella,

    Great to hear from you again.

    People have every right to sin - gambling included. My only concern is that crime rates and the 'sleaze factor' in Singapore increases to such levels that we cannot distinguish Singapore from other large Asian cities. It took years for Singapore to build up its family friendly brand image. It will be a shame to see the image dented by the casinos.

    I look forward to your comments in the future.

    Kind regards,