Booming Manila bets on casinos


THE ECONOMIC upswing is translating into an array of cranes on the skyline in downtown Manila, and among the striking developments are a number of new resorts complete with casinos.

The gaming industry is becoming extremely competitive in Asia. Macau is looking unassailable as the world’s biggest gaming venue, but even strait-laced Singapore recently opened a couple of plush resorts.

Vietnam is due to open a new casino resort in 2013 and markets such as Taiwan and South Korea are considering legalising gambling.

The Philippines is potentially huge. The investment bank CLSA predicts gambling revenue in the Philippines will grow from €1 billion in 2011 to €2.4 billion in 2015 once these resorts are finished.

The country’s wealthiest man, Henry Sy, has just announced his leisure company Belle Corp will team up with Macau casino group Melco Crown, owned by Australian tycoon James Packer and Hong Kong’s Lawrence Ho, son of Macau tycoon Stanley Ho, to develop an €800 million casino-hotel in Manila.

The Philippines gaming market has great potential. Locals are legally allowed to gamble, creating a much larger pool of customers than in markets such as Vietnam, where casino gambling is restricted to foreigners.

Until now, Melco has been firmly focused on Macau, where it is awaiting final approval to build a casino resort.

Melco will invest no more than €468 million using cash, cash flow and debt financing to help fund the casino resort, the company said in a statement. A loan facility of €258 million may also be made available to help finance the project.

Belle plans to build an integrated entertainment resort complex called Belle Grande Manila Bay, including a 30,000sq m casino in a developing gaming and retail destination known as Entertainment City in Manila. Driving in Manila Bay you can see where three other casino licensees are set to operate in a project run by state regulator Philippine Amusement Gaming Corp, or Pagcor.

The biggest of the projects is a €1.6 billion casino-hotel complex being built by Japan’s Universal Entertainment Corp and set for completion in 2014.

The two other developers are Filipino billionaire Enrique Razon’s Bloomberry Resorts Corp and the joint venture between Genting Hong Kong Ltd and Alliance Global Group. Japanese slot machine tycoon Kazuo Okada is also developing a casino in Manila.