Tale of two casinos

Singapore’s government dictates that both the city’s integrated resorts casinos are the same in every key respect. Both also have the same primary marketing strategy at this early stage: dozens of buses daily hauling gamblers over the border from Malaysia. But on the gaming floor, Singapore’s casinos are very different. “Resorts World is gambling without atmosphere,” AG Leisure Partners managing director Sean Monaghan contends. “Marina Bay Sands has a presence.” With gold the dominant colour, three levels ringing the main floor to create a stadium effect, and crowned with a seven ton Swarovski chandelier 40 meters above, the 494-table, main gaming floor at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) feels like a place to find James Bond. Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) casino feels more like to place to find a bus. The different aesthetics fit the resorts’ divergent target markets – business travellers and urban sophisticates at Marina Bay, vacationers at Resorts World. RWS lacks a wow factor, but the 370-table, main gaming floor has a comfortable, familiar feel. Maybe it’s the self-serve water – in environmentally friendly paper cups rather than plastic bottles – and tea; attendants dispense coffee and soft drinks. Incredibly, the casino floor includes seats not directly in front of the gaming tables or one of its 1,092 gaming machines; they’re just for sitting. Despite being below the IR’s ground level, the RWS casino’s central area, with 219 tables, admits natural light and has an open feel under the high ceilings. Its two wings where smoking is allowed have lower ceilings and a more cramped feel, particularly when crowded, and seem worn after just four months. One wing, the Orchid Room with 50 tables, is reserved exclusively for Singapore residents, who complained they couldn’t find space at tables after paying their S$100 entry fee. Among more than a dozen games offered at RWS, baccarat dominates with minimum bets from S$50, adjustable by table and time of day. As at owner Genting’s Highlands casino outside Kuala Lumpur, RWS has a heavy representation of roulette – with minimum bets as low as S$4 – and pontoon, a blackjack variation. There are also three busy electronic gaming table areas with nearly 300 seats for roulette and baccarat games run with live dealers and betting at individual terminals. Less choice, and smoke There are no electronic gaming tables in Marina Bay Sands but there are plans to add them to its total of nearly 1,600 gaming machines. MBS’ table game choices are narrower than at RWS with just “six to eight major games” according to MBS CEO Thomas Arasi, including blackjack, baccarat, sic bo, roulette and a surprisingly straightforward version of stud poker. Minimum bets are generally higher at MBS, from S$10 roulette to S$100 for baccarat. The first level smoking area at MBS houses about 370 tables and nearly 1,000 machines. High ceilings let the smoke disperse. “The casino is like no place else,” Daniel Reviv, a Special Adviser to RWS developer Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson says. “The question is whether [Malaysian and Indonesian] customers will feel comfortable in this setting.” “In every other gaming market where a player has choice, the high-valued player gravitates to the better facility,” AG Leisure’s Monaghan says, noting that MBS opens more than 400 tables at peak times, versus less than the 200 at RWS. “I think it is going to be tough for Genting to secure and/or retain the high valued player. The quality difference is far too significant: their facility looks very, very basic versus Marina Bay Sands. The market share issue will become more and more pronounced over time.”