Singapore church group attacks casino plan

Singapore church leaders have launched a blistering attack on plans to open this country's first casino, saying it would undermine the city-state's corruption-free reputation and foster a rise in social problems.

The four-page broadside from the National Council of Churches, Singapore follows a similarly tough statement last month from Singapore's Islamic scholars, and comes as the casino proposal has sparked an intense nationwide debate.

"Singapore's hard-earned international reputation as a safe, just, and corruption-free country that cares for poor and vulnerable people, will be tarnished...,'' the group said in statement faxed to The Associated Press Thursday.

Singapore frequently ranks as one of the least-corrupt countries in the world, and ministers in the tightly run Southeast Asian nation take great pride in the general absence of graft.

After years of opposition, the People's Action Party government made a rare U-turn in March and said it would consider letting a casino open in a bid to boost tourism and tax revenues.

Officials are studying the plan, and ministers are expected to make a decision by the end of the year.

Singapore already allows slot machines and betting on horse races and other sports. But critics fear a full-fledged casino could foster vice, money-laundering and a lapse in morals.

"Singapore is not so poor and desperate that we have to depend on revenues from casinos and gambling to increase our gross domestic product and to finance social projects,'' said the council, whose members include Anglicans, Presbyterian and Methodist denominations.

The group added that allowing a first casino would compromise moral values, and encourage the belief that money could be made without hard work.

"It is unlikely that a country known for its gambling culture and access to casino facilities will be a desirable place for any responsible family,'' the council statement said.

The casino plan has also drawn many comments of support, both from ordinary Singaporeans in letters to the local press, and from international gaming companies eager to expand their operations.