Gambling on casinos to lift gloom

The two casinos, opening late next year and early 2010, will need 20,000 employees that will provide a bright spark to the poor job market.

In a city mired in pessimism, one of the two large casino resorts has launched the biggest recruitment drive in a recession in preparation for launch next year.

The SGD 5bil (RM11.9bil) Marina Bay Sands placed advertisements last week to fill 10,000 vacancies, providing a bright spark in a poor job market.

Its scheduled opening at end-2009 will be followed months later by the second integrated resort — Genting’s Resorts World at Sentosa — which will need another 10,000 workers.

The SGD 5.2bil (RM12.3bil) Genting project, which will open its doors in early 2010, will probably begin its own recruitment sometime next year.

Their total requirement of 20,000 employees within only 12-18 months, ranging from museum director and top managers to roulette operators and hotel receptionists, is not easy to meet.

With the limited population, the casinos will result in a greater reliance on foreigners, whatever the intention.

In this first round of hiring, the Las Vegas casino has promised to hire “as many Singaporeans (which normally includes PRs or permanent residents) as possible”.

Most PRs here are from Malaysia followed by China and India.

Some 3,500 people have applied for the chance to play a little part in history-making — to work in Singa pore’s first casino.

The buzz started as early as 9am on Monday, when housewives and senior citizens, who are specially targeted — as well as hotel executives and ‘casino admin’ graduates — began applying.

More than 50% did so via a special hotline, said a spokesman for Singapore’s National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which is helping in the recruitment.

The resort’s website received 1,000 applications, while 700 others applied via SMS text messages. Another 200 walked into an NTUC office at Redhill Road.

The Americans have won praise for giving special consideration to the job market’s most neglected people — seniors, housewives and the jobless.

The news helps to soothe jittery nerves as Singapore moves deeper into recession.

Last week as excited crowds talked about casino jobs, some 2km away in the financial district, a less happy scenario was unfolding.

More than 20 retrenched equity and investment staff from crisis-hit Merrill Lynch were packing their bags. It was one of several banks and brokerages that are sacking workers — albeit a trickle.

A banker said before he left: “You’re seeing half-empty offices and morale is certainly not good.

“A lady who went into the room after me came out with her eyes red, tears rolling down her face. Some of the senior folk didn’t even pack their belongings. They stormed out.”

For the two mega-casinos, the launch could have been better timed. By 2009 and early-2010, the worldwide recession is unlikely to end yet.

While they were being constructed, the US credit crunch and Singapore’s economy were deteriorating so badly that Singaporeans began to doubt if the casinos would take off on time.

The opening is now beyond doubt. However, many analysts still see a tough road ahead; with tourism in decline, casinos in Las Vegas and Macau are reporting fewer visitors.

But millions of job-seekers here and the surrounding countries, the arrival of this new casino culture in Singapore is a heaven-sent.

A large number of Singaporeans still oppose their presence as a threat to the family given the people’s propensity to gamble. But in the wake of the weakening job market the grumbling has become less noisy.

The integrated resorts will result in an additional 25,000 related jobs being created.

It could raise economic growth by 2% and double tourist arrivals to 17 million and raise total tourism receipts to SGD 30bil (RM71.2bil) by 2015 (non-recession calculations).

These business and family resorts will change the face of Singapore when the recession blows over.

“Rain or shine, people will still gamble,” said a stock investor. “Re cession may only be a brief dampener.”

Once an avid critic of casinos, Mi nister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew now says there should be more than two casinos once the 10-year moratorium expires. Until then, these are the only two.

The prospects may also have contributed to Lee’s optimism earlier this year when he predicted (before the crisis proved him wrong) that Singapore was entering a golden era in the next five to 10 years that would be unmatched in history.

These casinos could reduce the severity of the recession. From this year’s forecast 3%, gross domestic product may decline by 1% in 2009.

Without them, it could last longer and jobs harder to come by.

The vibrancy they will bring is more predictable. It will bring in more fun to people’s lives, help bring in affluent foreigners and pull up property values in the medium term.

An academic said, “Today Singa poreans are too caught up by the gloom to look beyond the next three to five years,” said an academic.

But Lee is not wrong about a more exciting phase of growth for this global city, only that his timing was off by a few years, he added.

However, as other casino cities have revealed, casinos have a flip side.

It will bring about more bankruptcies and broken homes, not to mention crime and prostitution. The government says it has taken all possible steps to minimise the impact.

Gamblers need to pay SGD 100 (RM237.20) for each entry. Some 29,000 “undesirables” — bankrupts or irresponsible gamblers — have been banned from entering. Spouses can also stop their addicted partners from the tables.

All this could spawn a greater demand for other type of professionals — social workers, gambling councillors and family mediators. Not to forget — loan sharks!