City ends 40-year ban as it opens bids for licences to build two casino resorts Singapore yesterday officially ended a 40-year ban on casinos and will forge ahead with plans to build two gaming resorts at an estimated cost of S$5 billion ($23.55 billion). The authorities are now soliciting formal bids and will award licences by December. The casinos are expected to open in 2009. 'We cannot stand still. The whole region is on the move,' Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told parliament. The government last year solicited 'expressions of interest' from developers, and by February had received 19 preliminary proposals for two gaming resorts incorporating casinos, hotels, convention space and other recreational facilities on a 12-hectare site at a bay area near the city centre and a 35-hectare plot on Sentosa Island. 'We are not aiming to become like Las Vegas or Macau, where gambling is the main industry,' Mr Lee said. 'We will not allow casinos to sport garish neon displays on the facades and have jackpot machines everywhere from the lobby to the toilets.' Responding to opponents of the move, the government will ban casinos from extending credit to locals and will introduce a S$100 daily admission charge for residents to deter problem gambling. 'In the past, we could keep Singaporeans insulated from sin and temptation,' Mr Lee said. 'But today the situation is different. What is not available in Singapore is all around us.' One high-profile bidder is a joint venture between MGM Mirage of the United States and Singapore's CapitaLand, which is 61 per cent owned by state-owned conglomerate Temasek Holdings. Genting, the owner of Malaysian gaming development Genting Highlands and Star Cruises, has also submitted a proposal. Other contenders include Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, Harrah's Entertainment and Melco International Development, headed by Stanley Ho Hung-sun. Legalised gambling in Singapore is unlikely to have a significant impact on Macau, where mainland Chinese accounted for 57 per cent of visitors last year, compared with 10 per cent in Singapore. The city state's biggest pull is expected to be among Southeast Asians, who accounted for 37 per cent of arrivals last year. That may take some business away from Australia's casinos. According to government figures, Singaporeans spend S$6 billion a year on legalised betting through state lotteries, horse racing and soccer. They also spend up to S$1.5 billion in overseas casinos. A Merrill Lynch report last month estimated revenues at the proposed casino resorts could reach S$3 billion a year, with 65 per cent of that coming from locals.