Free Lunch in Singapore?


Posted: April 10, 2013

Updated: April 10, 2013

Casinos are powerless to collect delinquent debts

They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but some visitors to Singapore’s casinos seem to prove the saying wrong. Leaving behind debts so huge that they could cover lunch for each and every Singaporean, these gamblers are essentially thumbing their noses at the city state’s gambling industry.

Of course it takes two to tango, and the country’s casinos often have themselves to blame for extending outlandish credit lines with very little background checks to high rollers gambling at their Singaporean poker rooms and blackjack tables.

Nevertheless, this may just be a small price for huge success.

It’s been three years since the country’s first two casinos, Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands opened their gates – and what a three years it had been! In terms of revenues, these two casinos brought in a combined gross amount of around USD 5.9 billion. Barely behind the USD 6.2 billion generated by the multitude of Vegas casinos, Singapore’s gambling industry is easily within reach of the silver medal.

At the same time, neither of those regions can even hope to catch Macau and its USD 38 billion revenue.

In terms of profitability, however, these two casinos in Singapore beat any other brick-and-mortar establishment out there hands down, due to their profit margins being over 40%. Much of that profit comes from mainland Chinese millionaires and billionaires, who do not have local brick-and-mortar or mobile casinos to play at.

According to Deloitte’s Adam Weissenberg, Global Leader of Travel, Hospitality and Leisure, success all comes down to “the volume and the level of play. The casinos are bringing in people who have million-dollar credit lines. They are bringing in people who are playing million-dollar hands.”

Unfortunately for the casinos, these credit lines are often abused by the players, who run up huge debts before disappearing from the country. Since Singaporean gambling laws treat these debts as a civil matter instead of a criminal one, the delinquent casino tourists needn’t fear much if they get the timing right.

The exact extent of these debts is difficult to ascertain, but estimates place it between USD 300 million and USD 500 million for the Singapore gambling industry as a whole.

Even though casinos may go to court over unpaid debts, they are not overly adamant in pursuing these claims outside Singapore, especially in China, where gambling is illegal anyways. Authorities there have very little sympathy towards such foreign claims.

Another reason for their hesitation is the desire to avoid any unwanted publicity that could be generated by these cases, potentially reducing the number of future high rollers arriving from China.

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