Monday, June 1, 2009

Sentosa IR Cutting It A Little Too Close?

Source : The Straits Times, May 30, 2009

Its recruitment tour is cut short and it may face licence issues even as opening date nears

WITH just months to go before it is scheduled to open its doors, Resorts World at Sentosa may be finding itself in a bit of a pickle.

First, its much-publicised world tour to recruit 200 performers for its Universal Studios theme park had to be cut short because of fears over the Influenza A (H1N1) virus.

Second, its holding company, Genting Singapore, has introduced new shareholders into the fold, which may well complicate the process of getting a casino licence for the integrated resort.

When contacted, a spokesman for the resort said it would open its four hotels and Universal Studios as planned by the end of March next year.

Its audition team toured Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Manila and had six more cities to go before it returned on May 17. It had aimed to get all performers here in October for rehearsals. Its spokesman said that the team was recalled because of travel health alerts issued in the light of the contagious H1N1 virus. Another factor was 'the large crowds that will gather at the auditions', raising the chances of infection.

A bigger step is obtaining a licence from the Casino Regulatory Authority to operate the casino. It can apply for the licence only when 50 per cent of the resort is completed and 50 per cent of the funds spent.

The Straits Times understands it has yet to apply for a licence. The casino-resort declined to say when it would do so.

Its spokesman said: 'We will apply for the licence only when the criteria are fulfilled.'

The authority can be expected to do what is known as 'probity checks' to ascertain the company's owners, background, accounts and business links to other operations before awarding the licence. However, it has given no indication of how long this will take.

On Wednesday, Genting's Lim family sold its entire 9 per cent stake in Genting Singapore for $615 million. But even after the sale, they will remain in control of Genting Singapore through its Kuala Lumpur-listed parent company, Genting.

The concern is not only over who the new shareholders are but also whether Genting will have links to other individuals and groups which might be beyond the pale.

One theory is that the family pulled out of Genting Singapore so that it could invest in MGM Mirage's Macau casino.

Given that MGM Mirage is connected to the family of gaming magnate Stanley Ho, who is alleged to have links with organised crime, the Singapore Government might not look too kindly at a party with interests in both the Singapore and Macau gaming houses.

Gaming analyst Jonathan Galaviz said the Singapore Government has 'a very significant responsibility to ensure that the owners and executives of the integrated resorts have absolutely no unfavourable linkages'.

It is no surprise that a casino company would have an interest in Macau, he said, as it is 'still a very lucrative strategic play for the next 10 to 20 years'.

Genting is the holding company for the Genting Group, which runs the Genting Highlands Resort, Sentosa's integrated resort and palm oil producer Asiatic Development.

The last time Genting's sister company, Star Cruises - then a partner in the IR - offered to sell Mr Ho a stake in 2007, the company was questioned by the Singapore Government. The possibility of a casino licence being denied was also thrown up then.

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