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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April, 2005, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Singapore approves casino plan
An elderly Singaporean couple checks out a slot machine at a casino and gaming expo in this June 22, 2004 file photo in Singapore
Now Singaporeans will have more glamorous gambling locations
Singapore has approved a controversial plan to legalise casino gambling.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government had decided to give the go-ahead for two casinos - on Marina Bay and on Sentosa resort island.

The question of legalising casinos had sparked an unprecedented public debate in Singapore, with almost 30,000 people signing a petition against the idea.

But Mr Lee said the casinos were necessary to help Singapore attract more tourists.

"We want Singapore to have the x-factor - that buzz that you get in London, Paris or New York," he said, saying that his country was in danger of becoming a "backwater".

The casinos, which will be operational by 2009, are central to Singapore's goal of doubling the number of tourists to 17 million a year.

But religious groups expressed alarm at the plan.

Singapore's Roman Catholic Archbishop Nicholas Chia said he understood the economic arguments, but said "we are very worried about the cost of human, family and social well-being".

"We will try to dissuade people from being addicted and educate people on the ill-effects of problem-gambling."

Asia's legal gambling industry is valued at about $14bn (7.7bn) a year, and Singapore would like to have its share of this business.

Such a casino would also help Singapore recover much of the $180m a year it is estimated that Singaporeans spend each year in neighbouring Malaysian casinos.

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