The Rise of Casino Gaming on Cruise Ships in Singapore

Sheldon Adelson recently announced the delay of the opening of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands until January or February 2010. There is speculation now that the Resorts World at Sentosa by Genting International will open for business before the Marina Bay Sands. But while the battle between the two integrated resorts has barely begun, the battle between cruise ships that offer casino gaming has already started. These ships gather at the Singapore Cruise Centre, which manages a large cruise terminal at HarbourFront and three ferry terminals at HarbourFront, Tanah Merah and Pasir Panjang in Singapore; and handles more than 8 million passengers each year.

The Singapore Cruise Centre at HarbourFront is located on the southern tip of Singapore, opposite Sentosa Island. In fact, HarbourFront is the gateway to Sentosa Island, the site for the Resorts World by Genting International. Right next to the Singapore Cruise Centre at HarbourFront is VivoCity, the largest shopping mall in Singapore, with roughly 1.1 million square feet of retail space. VivoCity’s iconic architecture and numerous retail outlets have made it one of the “must-shop” places in Singapore. When completed, the Resorts World at Sentosa will greatly complement current tourist attractions on Sentosa Island and at the Singapore Cruise Centre and VivoCity.

Among the ships anchored at the Singapore Cruise Centre are those belonging to Star Cruises, which is the leading cruise line in the Asia-Pacific and the world’s third largest cruise operator. Star Cruises is associated with the Genting Group, which founded the company in 1993. This relationship may strengthen the product offerings at the Resorts World. Ships by Star Cruises operate from the Singapore Cruise Centre at HarbourFront on a daily and weekly basis. Among its impressive fleet of cruise ships are the Superstar Virgo and the Superstar Aquarius. Both have significant casino gaming entertainment facilities to please their Singapore and foreign gamblers. Singapore Cruise Centre is also frequented by the Legend of the Seas, a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean International.

Lesser known to many industry observers and foreigners are a group of small leisure cruise ships, which also have casino gaming facilities on board. They include the M.V. Leisure World, the M.V. Royale Star and the M.V. Long Jie. The Long Jie, in particular, is worth mentioning. It was established in 2007 to provide entertainment alternative to locals and regional tourists, and it is known as a gambling cruise ship to Singapore gamblers. Within its two years of operation, the Long Jie has managed to attract a stable group of loyal customers to gamble in its onboard casino. There are a few reasons why. Let’s examine some of them.

The Long Jie offers daily departures from the Singapore Cruise Centre. For eager Singapore gamblers, it is very convenient to hop onto the Long Jie. Passengers can board the ship directly when it is anchored at the Singapore Cruise Centre on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, but there is also a ferry almost every hour that fetches any eager gambler that wants to board the ship (or leave it) even though it is parked outside of Singapore waters. The Long Jie operates a good-sized casino gaming area, which is supplemented with a spa, swimming facilities and a restaurant that accommodates up to 300 diners. There are more than 100 slots and a variety of table games, including baccarat, roulette and Sic Bo, on its gaming floor. Needless to say, kids are not welcome onboard.

The Long Jie’s boarding fee is cheap. For U.S. $40 or less, passengers can stay onboard for two nights and enjoy a sumptuous supply of food in the restaurant and casino. Compare this fee to the approximately U.S. $70 (S$100) fee to enter the two integrated resorts as proposed by the Singapore government. On the Long Jie, the variety and quality of food is good and the standard of customer services is high. Food choices range from Western to Chinese to Malay cuisine. The boarding fee, however, does not include cabin accommodations. Some leisure gamblers just get onboard in the morning and then leave in the afternoon, but cabin charges are cheap for anyone who wants to stay overnight or longer. A good-quality twin room is only around U.S. $35 per day on nonpeak days and U.S. $55 during the peak season.

The Long Jie employs diverse service personnel, including Chinese, Filipinos and Indonesians. Many elderly Singaporeans (in their 60s and 70s) gamble at the Long Jie’s casino. Working Singaporeans come onboard during their off days and simply stay overnight to gamble. Both food and gambling are the key attractions onboard the Long Jie, and these are supplemented by the high quality of services.

The current success of the Long Jie demonstrates that there are many keen leisure Singaporean gamblers who want to be entertained and pampered. More importantly, these Singaporeans are attracted to quality products and services, low prices and convenience; in other words, good value. Currently, the Long Jie and the other cruise ships fill a gap in the marketplace that demands good quality casino gaming entertainment. The Long Jie appears to be a successful example of what can be done to fill this demand. On one hand, such gaming-driven cruise ships add to the variety of entertainment and recreation for ordinary adult Singaporeans, especially retirees. On the other hand, their easy and low-cost access via the Singapore Cruise Centre at HarbourFront and Tanah Merah can potentially lead to higher problem gambling rates for some vulnerable groups of Singaporeans, including elderly folks.

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