On my visit to Singapore last week to visit Changi Airport and the Singapore Airlines training center, I stopped by the resort casinos that had opened since the last time I was there.
I was surprised to learn that even though it has just two resort-casinos, each less than two years old, Singapore is on pace to generate more gaming revenue than Las Vegas, which has 41 casinos on The Strip alone.
“The final numbers for 2011 aren’t quite in yet,” said Holly Wetzel, spokesperson for the American Gaming Association. “But it is anticipated that this year Singapore could surpass Las Vegas as the world’s second-largest gaming market.”
The world’s number one gaming destination is Asia’s Macau, where 33 casinos raked in $23.5 billion of gaming revenues in 2010. “That’s more than twice the total revenue of every casino in the state of Nevada,” said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Las Vegas and Singapore, with 2010 gaming revenues of $5.8 billion and $5.1 billion, respectively, still lag way behind Macau. But that No. 2 spot is highly coveted, and analysts are predicting that in 2011 the combined gaming revenues for Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa could total $6.4 billion versus $6.2 billion for Las Vegas.
How have Singapore’s two casinos managed to beat the odds?
It may have a something to do with what’s outside the casinos.
When the Singapore government issued the licenses for these first two casinos, it did so with the understanding that gaming would be just one amenity available at “Integrated Resorts” offering a wide range of dining, retail and other non-gaming activities. (As a social safeguard, the government also ruled that Singapore citizens must pay a $100 daily fee or a $2,000 annual membership fee or a to enter the casinos; visitors enter for free.)
The strategy was designed to broaden Singapore’s existing mix of offerings, “enrich the overall visitor experience and strengthen our appeal to business and leisure travelers,” said Carrie Kwik, Executive Director, Integrated Resorts, Singapore Tourism Board.
To that end, the sprawling Resorts World Sentosa is home to six hotels, including a Hard Rock Hotel and one designed and named for iconic architect Michael Graves, and Southeast Asia’s first Universal Studios theme park, which recently debuted TRANSFORMERS, The Ride. Trendy shops and restaurants, a huge maritime museum, a Las Vegas-style stage show and a marine life park said to be the largest oceanarium in the world are also onsite. A six-star spa and wellness retreat is scheduled to open soon.
The 57-floor Marina Bay Sands has three giant hotel towers capped by Sands Sky Park, a cruise ship-shaped park the size of the three football fields with an observation deck, night club, restaurants and an infinity-edge swimming pool that is the world’s largest outdoor pool at that height. On the ground, the resort has a lotus-shaped museum, entertainment venues, upscale retail stores and restaurants and, of course, a casino.
“Before the integrated resorts opened, people were wondering if Singapore was taking too many chances and trading its squeaky clean image for the sleazy version that unfortunately comes with casinos,” said Robin Goh, assistant director of communications for Resorts World Sentosa. “But here no one needs to pass through a casino to check-in or get to their rooms.”
(This story originally appeared on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin)