Infrastructures of Extraction (Singapore) – Casino Urbanisms

Infrastructures of Extraction (Singapore) – Casino Urbanisms

Unlike in Macau and Manila, casino operators in Singapore are not allowed to provide shuttle services that ferry local gamblers to their properties. When Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands opened for business in February and April 2010 respectively, they followed the usual industry practice of laying out a private infrastructure of extraction through the provision of free or subsidized shuttle services. As both casinos opened a few months apart from each other, there was intense competition for the “First Mover’s Advantage”, often accomplished by locking customers in with attractive membership privileges and loyalty programmes. The routes taken by these shuttle services are thus the geographical expression of a duopolistic regime designed to cater to different market sectors. Investigation by the government revealed that within six months of operation, both operators had established no less than 30 shuttle services:

“Marina Bay Sands was offering a paid premium service at 12 pick-up points covering the Central Business District and Orchard Road. It charged premium fares but these were redeemable at food and beverage outlets, some of which were in the casino. Resorts World @ Sentosa provided free shuttle bus services at 19 pick-up points, most of which were in the heartlands and Central Business District areas. They were clearly not part of the public transport network. The buses also operated very long hours, up to 10.30 pm on weeknights and up to 2.30 am on weekends and the eves of public holidays. These late hours meant that most of the facilities at RWS were closed, except for the casino.”

Singapore Parliamentary Debate, 15 Sept 2010, “Free Shuttle Bus Services to Integrated Resorts”, col. 1058

Based on the principle that the casinos should promote themselves to foreigners rather than locals, the government put an end to these services on 10th Sept 2010. Only specific pick-up locations in tourist destination areas like airports and hotels would be allowed in the future.

Yet, this does not mean that the Integrated Resorts are isolated from the local population which, in 2012, contributed to about 20 – 30% of casino visitorship at both IRs (Singapore Parliamentary Debate, 2012: 2392). Among most casino cities, Singapore is unique because the Integrated Resorts are neither sequestered from the urban population nor disconnected from public infrastructure. On the contrary, these IRs are planned as part of a larger urban development and infrastructural programme. MBS was a key project that completed the public promenade around the waterfront as well as extending the Central Business District into Marina Bay. Its completion coincided with the extension of the road network to the undeveloped parts of the Bay and a mass transit station that connects directly to the property. The development of RWS was part of a comprehensive renovation of Sentosa as a tourist attraction, and it followed the completion of the Sentosa Cove project, an elite residential-marina enclave targeted at High-Networth Individuals located at the eastern coast of the island. Though the public infrastructure was not planned to serve only the IRs, it replaced the need for a private infrastructure of extraction. 

In Singapore, the infrastructure of extraction is less visible, exclusive and extensive. It is blended into the landscape of everyday mobility rather than dedicated only to the casinos. As stated in an annual report of a public bus company, the government’s policy was “to make public transport the preferred travel choice of visitors to Singapore’s first Integrated Resort” (SMRT Annual Report, 2010: 96). To reveal this infrastructure, we mapped out the public bus services that were introduced after 2010 to connect to the two IRs directly. What kind of geography do these bus services produce? And how are they different from the free and subsidized services once provided by the casinos? What does this substitution say about the brand of economic nationalism which justifies state intervention to protect citizens while profiting from foreigners?

Based on our mapping, there are six services that connect directly to RWS and ten services that stop at MBS (Table 1 and 2). All connections to Marina Bay Sands are expansions or diversions of existing services that already serve the Central Business District, and all but one were implemented on 26th April 2010 in conjunction with the completion of major roads at Marina South and the opening of Marina Bay Sands. For example, the route of Bus 133 which ran from the residential area of Ang Mo Kio to the CBD at Shenton Way was extended to include 13 more stops at Marina South, one of which at Marina Bay Sands. Another paired service, 97 and 97e, which started from the west in Jurong East, was diverted to Marina South where it connected key destinations like Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay MRT station, before terminating at its original destination, Marina Centre Terminal. Along with the opening of the Bayfront MRT station on Jan 2010,  Marina Bay Sands was thus merged into the expanding network of public transport and became one node in the development of Marina Bay as a business and tourist hub (Fig. 1).

As an offshore tourist island, Sentosa is a termination point rather than a node in a larger urban circuit. Dedicated services and infrastructure like a monorail, internal shuttle buses, cable cars and a sheltered boardwalk connect the short distance between the island and Harbourfront, the southern tip of the mainland which also serves as a cruise terminal. RWS spent $80 million to upgrade the existing dual-lane vehicular bridge to a three-lane carriage way for each direction of traffic. This was completed on 8 July 2009, a few months before the opening of the casino and major hotels in January 2010 (Genting Singapore PLC, Annual Report 2009: 12).  Within four months of the opening of the casino, five bus services were introduced – two express services, two night services, and one feeder service. The express services – 188R and 963R – replicate existing routes that connect Woodlands in the north and Choa Chu Kang in the northwest to the Harbourfront, but with two key differences: first, instead of stopping at Harbourfront, the buses continue into Sentosa and terminate at the basement of RWS where the entrance to the casino is; and second, as an express service, they only run on weekends and public holidays, skipping most of the intervening stops. The feeder bus, RWS 8, provides a short loop service between RWS and Harbourfront daily, while the night buses runs between 11pm and 2am at half-an-hour intervals on Fridays, Saturdays and the eve of public holidays. These night buses also pass by MBS, weaving a long circuitous route across the island before ending in the residential districts of Sengkang and Khatib. Finally, in 2017, the route of bus 123 was extended to end at Sentosa instead of Harborfront. It would be the only public bus service that runs daily between RWS and the mainland of Singapore (Fig. 2).

Both MBS and RWS have been integrated into the public transport network, to the extent that it is no longer possible to identify any dedicated access to these IRs. But unlike MBS which enjoys full access to local customers thanks to the extensive network that serves the Central Business District, RWS’ access is largely limited to services that operate outside “productive” time or within a small geographical area. This public infrastructure failed, however, to meet the industry’s desire for a more visible, exclusive and extensive network of extraction, and for a few months before the government intervened in Sept 2010, they introduced a fleet of coaches to bypass the city and draw customers directly to their casinos. The feeder bus, RWS 8, is one of only two survivors of this short-lived private infrastructure of extraction, tolerated only because its service is restricted to the “last mile” between the mainland and the offshore tourist enclave. The other private bus service runs between Genting Hotel in Jurong East to RWS, and is restricted to hotel guests (Fig. 3). 

The state-planned public infrastructure attempts to diminish dedicated access to the casino while improving general access to the IR. As the brief clash between the government and the industry shows, this differentiation cannot be understood purely in functional terms. After all, the casino and the IR are co-located and improving access to one invariably improves access to the other. In a small and well-connected city like Singapore, there are multiple ways for the general public to access the casinos, and denying the casino operators of their private buses has a far more limited effect than in other casino enclaves like Cotai (Macau) and Entertainment City (Manila). Rather, the differentiation is primarily biopolitical – it maps out a geography of segmented connectivity where different sectors of the population are granted different degrees of access based on a metric of vulnerability. Geographically, the “heartlands” represents the moral and socio-economic core of the nation, and it is here that that any penetration by the industry is most scrutinized. At the other end of the bio-political spectrum, wealthy citizens are not hampered in any way to access the casinos, and tourists are actively encouraged to spend their money there. Between an absolute ban and seamless access, this gradient of convenience and inconvenience has become a technique of governance.

The geography of segmented connectivity is in direct contrast to the geography carved out by the national lottery started in 1968. While the former is expressed as a gradient of inconvenience, the latter is expressed as a terrain of saturation (see one of the earlier posts). The two IRs are located in an offshore island and the Central Business District, far away from the “heartlands” where most Singaporeans lived in public housing. The hundreds of national lottery retail outlets are distributed throughout the heartlands, and are primarily found in markets and shopping centres. The citizen has to be buffered from the casino as a site of potential danger. However, he needs to have easy and direct access to the national lottery as he would otherwise participate in all manners of illegal lotteries and games that constantly lurk in the shadows. While the national lottery and the casino are often seen as two distinct phases in Singapore’s economic and political development, the governmentality is similar – state intervention is necessary to protect the citizen from enemies within and without, and to keep local wealth within its national territory. This is a form of economic nationalism that does not simply gets displaced by a global force such as the casino industry. Singapore is not alone in this – see, for example, the Swedish and Finnish lotteries (Riita Matilainen, 2010: 34) and the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes (Marie Coleman, 2009) in the early-mid 20th century.

Another way economic nationalism manifests is in how gaming revenue assumes some kind of symbolic identity. All surpluses from the national lottery are channeled to the Tote Board and is then used to support art, community and health-related activities through the disbursement of grants. From the two IRs, only the casino entry levy (which only citizens and Permanent Residents pay) is channeled to the Tote Board while a much larger amount is passed to the government as gaming tax. This difference in how gaming revenue becomes tagged for socially beneficial projects is telling: gambling revenue that comes from the citizenry has to be morally cleansed by diverting it back to fund projects of public virtue. Gambling revenue that comes primarily from foreign sources does not have to go through this process and is classified as anonymous tax.

The geography of segmented connectivity does not only seek to reduce dedicated access to the casinos. Its converse is an extensive network of buses that draws customers from beyond the national border in Malaysia. As Lee Kuan Yew said of Singapore’s first proposal to locate a casino on an offshore island in 1965:

“We’ve got an island set aside for all this. We don’t want all this. We don’t want to go greyhound racing or in the Casino – that’s no good. But the American tourists like it. And all Malaysians can go there. Singaporeans will serve them. But, for Singaporeans, we will go to sleep early. We will wake up early. Tomorrow we work hard. If you go for a massage and tomorrow your bones are weaker, we will never succeed. Let the other fellow have a good time. Never mind. We will give the full red- carpet treatment. But, for Singaporeans, I say: “First thing in the morning, physical jerks – P.T. Those who want a real massage, we can beat them up properly”.

“Casino Isle off S’pore?”, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 1965: 1

The next section analyzes these connections by mapping the transborder buses that run between RWS and various cities in Malaysia. It will be a different geography, one that is designed to “let the other fellow have a good time”.

 

TABLE 1: BUS SERVICES TO RESORTS WORLD SENTOSA

Bus Number
Start Point
End Point
Date when route was changed to connect to RWS

123
Bt Merah Interchange
Beach Station Terminal, Sentosa
30th July 2017

963R
Woodlands Temp Int
Resort World Sentosa
30th Jan 2010

188R
Choa Chu Kang Int
Resort World Sentosa
1st May 2010

NR1
Resort World Sentosa
Opp. Khatib Station Exit D
7th May 2010

NR6
Resort World Sentosa
Blk 225A Compassvale Drive
7th May 2010

RWS8
Vivo City Harbourfront
Resort World Sentosa
20th Jan 2010

 

TABLE 2: BUS SERVICES TO MARINA BAY SANDS

Bus Number
Start Point
End Point
Date when route was changed to connect to MBS

97
Jurong East Temp Int
Marina Ctr Terminal
26th April 2010

97E
Jurong East Temp Int
Marina Ctr Terminal
26th April 2010

106
Bukit Batok Interchange
Shenton Way Terminal
28th Sept 2014

133
Ang Mo Kio Int
Shenton Way Terminal
26th April 2010

502
Soon Lee Bus Pk
Soon Lee Bus Pk
26th April 2010

502A
Soon Lee Bus Pk
Downtown Station
26th April 2010

518
Pasir Ris Interchange
Pasir Ris Interchange
26th April 2010

518A
Pasir Ris Interchange
Bayfront Stn Exit B/MBS
26th April 2010

NR1
Resort World Sentosa
Opp. Khatib Station Exit D
29th Jan 2010

NR6
Resort World Sentosa
Blk 225A Compassvale Drive
29th Jan 2010

 

FIGURE 1: MARINA BAY SANDS BUS ROUTES

MBS Map 2019

 

FIGURE 2: RESORTS WORLD SENTOSA BUS ROUTES

RWS Map 2019

 

FIGURE 3: PRIVATE BUS SHUTTLE BETWEEN RWS AND GENTING HOTEL JURONG

20191207_143723

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Author: Dennis Jackson