Singapore casino revenue remains a gamble

Muhammad Cohen
Speak Without Interruption

I’m a big fan of Fareed Zakaria, and Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN is must-see TV for me. That’s why I was so disappointed last week when he touted Singapore as the “top-ranked innovator on the globe” during his cyber-guided of a government-sponsored high tech research center. I told him so in an email with the subject line “Singa-puffery” that read:


Shame on you (and CNN, where I worked as a producer) for broadcasting this propaganda. I wish you’d instead used your considerable skill and clout to report on Singapore’s suppression of freedom and its economic shenanigans at home and abroad. As a reporter attempting to cover Singapore, I know the kinds of obstacles you’d face. But, yes, the cyber-guides and the trains do indeed run on time.

Highlighting the sunny side of Singapore reinforces the government’s mythology that creativity can flourish under its particular brand of political, economic and social repression. Despite sky high white collar wages and living standards, housing subsidies, and international crossroads status, one of Singapore’s biggest challenges is keeping its best and brightest from migrating overseas.

Fallout from Singapore’s suppression and its “we’ll tell you what we want, when we want” approach spreads far and wide. Casinos, the latest big thing in Singapore, don’t escape.

Thanks to the government’s low priority on transparency, casino operators’ third quarter reports leave investors guessing about the size of Singapore’s gambling market. Analysts and investors also must guess about the split of the market between visitors and local residents.

As I wrote in Asia Times, Singaporeans may face further restrictions on gambling if the government thinks they’re spending too much at the casinos, so the local market share number really matters. Singapore’s government has data that could shed light on this critical statistic, but it chooses not to reveal it. In fact, the government has not released any gambling statistics, except for a few random scraps mainly in response to questions in Parliament, since the first bet was placed in February.

Macau provides a full range of monthly and quarterly gambling statistics so that investors can make informed choices about its casino operators and build businesses to complement the gambling trade. Seeing Macau, no paragon of information freedom, beating it on a matter of transparency and openness should help Singapore realize it has a serious problem – and fix it.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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