What We Need To Know?
– by Expert IR

I read the ST news article published on 14th Apr 2009 (Page B2) that writes about apparent fear of Singaporeans losing out job opportunities in the IRs.

With my experience (at senior management level) in the opening of international casino-resorts in the largest gaming hub in Asia, I would like to share some thoughts with people who are concerned with job opportunities in the current economic downturn and for Singaporeans who aspire to ‘bet’ their career with the IRs.

To be rather simple in nature, I would identify a few key points in relation to the news article that speak about Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) hiring of Filipinos (in big quantity as reported) for discussion as follow:

(1) Why Filipinos? As we are aware, there is large population of Filipinos working overseas in many sectors, including but not limited to hospitality, gaming, health care, IT, financial sectors etc. They are very adaptable in different environments (including wages, though there is a minimum wage standard imposed by the Philippines authority) and speak English. Therefore, Filipinos are not new to working in casinos all over the world. In newly opened casinos especially, it is prudent to have adequate number of dealers and supervisor with experience on the floor. This is to ensure the casino floor is operated with sufficient level of efficiency and also, for risk management purposes (prevent cheats, etc.)
The question is, can Singaporean fresh dealer trainees be trained within a reasonable timeframe and be proficient on the job? The answer is yes.
Singaporeans are not inferior to other Asian populations, and if Macau could adopt the practice of all casino dealers must be hired from the local population, then Singapore IR can survive with that too. But to be objective, at least 2/3 of dealers can be Singaporeans for a start. Unless Singaporeans do not prefer to take on the job as dealers (due to whatever reasons), then a higher ratio of foreigners becomes justifiable. Such practice has to be transparent so that people out there would not speculate and generate unnecessary ill-feelings.
Same logic should also be applied for theme park and other service elements in the IRs. While the operators of the IRs need to maintain a level of experience/competence in each area of their staffing, so that quality service and standard of operations are achievable. On the other hand, Singaporeans should be given fair chance to be evaluated in all aspects of IR including non-gaming facilities. I am very confident that most Singaporeans will meet requirements and many of them can be trained to perform proficiently. Therefore, well-developed training regime is a must.

(2) Cost Structure. We don’t have to debate over the EBITDA margins that the IR operators need to produce in order to be sustainable after opening. Bearing in mind the high capital expenses/costs (& loans) for the investment, the IR operators need to consciously maintain viable cost (i.e. low-cost) structure (staffing, operations, Junket commission, rebates, costs of good sales etc.) throughout their pre-opening to the post-opening business operations. Therefore, Singaporeans should focus on the job/career opportunities first and not too fussy over a big & comfortable remuneration at this point in time. The golden days of “If you build it, they will come” scenario might not happen anymore. When the IR operators fail to maintain a ‘sustainable’ staff cost structure from hiring of qualified local population, they will turn to foreigners who are willing to adjust and adapt. So, Singaporeans must not provide the “push” factor to the situation.

(3) Responsibility of IR Operators. One of the key responsibilities of the IR operators should be to establish human resource plans that encourage the promotion and upgrading of locals knowledge and skills on the job; to create an environment that rewards performance and competence. In some cases such HR policy remains a lip service. Macau government has therefore put in place a policy to ensure that casino operators consciously identify able local staff to be promoted in due course and statistics are sent to the authority. Hiring of foreigners therefore would be ‘balanced off’ based on whether the operator has put in effort to groom locals (as well as other relevant factors involved).

(4) Prevent The Fallouts. The Singapore IR initiative took a very deliberate process of public debates and is an integral part of developing Singapore’s new tourism landscape, amidst highly competitive regional tourism backdrop with Taiwan, Vietnam, India and Guangdong etc. moving into the same game. Therefore, the IR’s long-term sustainability is not just based on new hardware development and financial means. The IR needs to be a complementing factor to the travel trades & transportation industries, fuels the human resource development landscape in order to maintain an overall high level of excellent service quality. And time is not in our hand when others are also preparing for the fight of tourism market shares.
As we go down this path with a bold stroke, we also need to think beyond just the $100 levy & the hard rules in perspective but how we could operate a crown-jewel of tourism attractions and yet sustained by high standards of services – with a right mix of local and foreign talent pool.
It is hoped that the IR operators NOT to opt for the strategy of fast and easy way just to open up casinos and hotel rooms in quick time, try solely to make money from casino operation coupled with lowest-cost possible labour force (supported by large quantity of foreign workers). If that happens, then we can understand why many prospective, qualified and aspiring (of them many are trainable) Singaporeans will be disappointed and, start to question about the objectives of going ahead to build casino-inclusive IRs.

It is hoped that IR operators would refrain from being short-sightedness and they should take the opportunity to help remove fears of Singaporeans in which that the IR only hire locals for drivers, cleaning ladies, tea-ladies, waiter/waitress and other basic service jobs; they must convince Singaporeans through clear & positive action but not just sounding out repeated PR words. Community support and good relations with locals remain key success factors especially for casino-resorts to sustain and grow in new markets. Social harmony must be observed in such cases, be it in Macau, Las Vegas, Singapore and other parts of the world.

  1. Tom P says:

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