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Singapores Marina Bay Sands Construction to Begin

Singapore's first casino, the world's most expensive integrated resort, is set to begin construction in downtown Marina Bay and is expected to open in 2009.

While there are may who look forward to the new casino, many local residents fear the problems that often accompany casinos and the social problems that may result.

The ambitious project is a direct reversal of the decades-old ban on casinos in the smallest country in Southeast Asia. But without such changes, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last April, it risks becoming a backwater.

Las Vegas Sands, the world's largest casino firm by market value, is currently finalizing the design of its $3.6 billion Marina Bay Sands resort-casino. Beating three rivals to win the deal two months ago, Sands will start building the development's three hotel towers, 300-plus meeting rooms and retail arcades later this year, to meet a 2009 deadline for opening.

But talk of the casino employing 10,000 people and creating 20,000 jobs in other industries has not won over the critics. Almost 30,000 Singaporeans signed an anti-casino petition last year; worried about the social problems it could create.

The government is already moving to counter such criticism. In August last year, five months after the bids got the green light, a national council problem gambling was set up. It has already run a TV show on gambling's risks called "Bet Your Life and a World Cup. Such steps might anger communities in other parts of the world, but Singaporeans are used to sweeping social prescriptions as they already live with laws against jaywalking and chewing gum and seem of the opinion that the levy may even be helpful.