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2005: Singapore rolls dice with casino plans

China, Malaysia end dollar pegs; NKF scandals spark outrage.


SINGAPORE put aside its long-held opposition to casinos in 2005 with a decision to develop two integrated resorts that would transform the Sentosa and Marina areas.

There was no hesitance by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who had just taken over the nation's premiership, to tackle a controversial and game-changing topic early in his new role.

The issue spurred a fierce debate in the country as proponents argued for economic necessity while critics warned of social risks. Those who were for the integrated resorts argued that Singapore risked being left behind if it did not dare to take the risk. But concerns that casinos would exact a steep social cost from problem gamblers were not easily dismissed.

In the end, the government took a gamble that the benefits of two large entertainment destinations would outweigh their costs. To address worries of problem gambling, safeguards were set up such as restrictions on Singaporeans' access to gambling areas.

Elsewhere in the region, China and Malaysia ended their currency pegs to the US dollar on the same day in July 2005. The depegging marked a key milestone in China's ascension in global economics, setting in motion what would turn out to be an extended appreciation of the yuan.

That Malaysia also ended its dollar peg was interpreted as a need to keep the ringgit in tune with the yuan's movement, and was reflective of China's expanding presence in the region.

Public outrage in Singapore also reached a peak when a story about an order for a gold-plated tap turned into a flood of revelations about ethical and financial improprieties at the National Kidney Foundation.

News about lavish remuneration and benefits for the charity's then chief executive, TT Durai, eventually led to the removal of the charity's entire board, and spurred reforms in how voluntary welfare organisations are governed in Singapore.

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