Impact of Covid-19 on delay of expansion plans of MBS, RWS still unclear: Alvin Tan

An artist's impression of Marina Bay Sands' fourth tower, which is part of the integrated resort's expansion plans. PHOTO: LAS VEGAS SANDS CORP

SINGAPORE - The extent to which the expansion of Singapore's integrated resorts (IRs) will be delayed remains unclear as the Covid-19 situation is still evolving, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan.

Giving an update on the IRs in Parliament on Monday (Jan 10), Mr Tan noted that Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) had indicated that there will be potential delays in the completion of their expansion plans due to the disruptions to the construction industry brought on by the pandemic.

"This is not altogether surprising, nor unique to this project or this industry. Covid-19 has affected construction timelines, both locally and globally," he said, adding that the IRs remain committed to their expansion plans.

Mr Tan was responding to Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Workers’ Party MP Louis Chua (Sengkang GRC) on the expected completion of the expansion during the debate on the Gambling Duties Bill, which the House passed on Monday.

The IRs had announced their $9 billion expansion plans in 2019.

The plans include adding a fourth tower to the iconic MBS development and a 15,000 -seat entertainment area. RWS will add two new zones to Universal Studios Singapore - Minion Park and Super Nintendo World - as well as a new oceanarium.

Resorts World Sentosa will add two new zones to Universal Studios Singapore - Minion Park and Super Nintendo World - as well as a new oceanarium. PHOTOS: RESORTS WORLD SENTOSA

Las Vegas Sands, which owns MBS, had expressed uncertainty last year about whether it can meet its current 2025 deadline.

RWS's owner Genting Singapore said the timeline of its project - which it initially projected to be completed around 2025 - would be impacted by the pandemic.

Both IRs did not say how long their plans would be delayed for.

Replying to Mr Gan, Mr Tan said the IRs' expansion is expected to contribute around $500 million annually to Singapore's gross domestic product "in a steady state", based on initial projections.

It will also directly create up to 5,000 new jobs and benefit local businesses, especially in the construction and services sector, he added.

The Bill also included changes to the Casino Control Act, to reflect that the casino exclusivity period - the period when only two casino licences will be in force - will end on Dec 31, 2030.

Other changes to the law will see casino operators paying higher taxes on their gaming revenue from March this year.

Under a new tiered tax system announced in 2019, the first $2.4 billion of gross gaming revenue from premium gaming will be taxed at 8 per cent, while the rest is taxed at 12 per cent.

Premium gaming refers to gaming revenue from gamblers who open a deposit account with at least $100,000. Mass gaming covers gamblers outside this category.

The first $3.1 billion of revenue per year from mass gaming will be taxed at 18 per cent, and the rest will be taxed at 22 per cent.

These new tax rates are subject to the casino operators meeting certain development targets, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong during the debate. If they fail to meet their targets, a flat rate of 12 per cent for premium gaming and 22 per cent for mass gaming will apply.

Currently, gross gaming revenue is subject to tax rates of 5 per cent for premium gaming and 15 per cent for mass gaming.

Penalties for offences related to gambling duties, which have remained unchanged since the 1950s, will also be raised under changes to laws.

The move is to ensure that penalties will be consistent with similar offences in other tax laws, said Mr Wong.

For gambling duties, the fine for non-filing of returns will be up to $5,000, in line with the same offence in the Income Tax Act and the Goods and Services Tax Act.

These changes will not affect smaller vendors such as those who sell Singapore Sweep tickets, said Mr Wong, in response to Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang).

"The changes only affect the betting operator or the private lottery promoter other than retailers. For the individual retailers, the amendments do not require any additional action on their part," he added.

Changes to the Casino Control Act will see casino operators paying higher taxes on their gaming revenue from March this year. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) asked how the IRs can benefit Singapore's economy, given the stagnation of international travel due to Covid-19.

In response, Mr Tan said setbacks in the tourism industry do not mean that it should hold back or not invest in capabilities for the long run.

He noted that the tourism landscape is getting competitive, and Singapore must position itself for when tourism picks up and resumes normality.

The expansion plans will also put the IRs in a good position for the future, he said. "Most of the offerings are catered towards tourism and towards developing this capability for when tourism and travel resume. And we must be prepared to take that uplift and to carry that wind when it comes."

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