At the recent Asian Gaming and Hospitality Congress in Macau the topic of the new casinos in the Philippines was very much to the fore. With the first stages of some properties in the Manila Bay Entertainment City due to open in 2013 it could be the start of a transformative period for casino gaming in both the Philippines and the wider Asian region.
The Philippine gambling market is already well-developed across a number of different sectors. Much of the gambling in the Philippines is run directly by, or in partnership with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), which is currently government-owned. PAGCOR already runs a number of casinos, arcades, and VIP Club across the country under the Casino Filipino name. And whilst these venues offer the usual mix of table games, slot machines, and entertainment, they are nothing compared to the scale of what is being planned at Manila Bay Entertainment City.
There have been four licences issued for casinos in the Manila Bay complex and each licence holder is in the process of completing their multi-billion dollar gaming resort.
But nothing is straightforward in gaming and the political backdrop against which these resorts are being built is complicated.
President Aquino’s election campaign was run on the slogan “when no-one’s corrupt, no-one will be poor”. He ordered an investigation into the entire nine-year gambling policy of PAGCOR under the previous chairman Efraim Genuino as well as a review of licences. The aim of the investigation is to determine whether the state has received all the revenues it was due from PAGCOR’s activities. A new chairman of PAGCOR has been appointed in Cristino Naguiat
The President has also said he does not encourage gambling and is opposed to casinos in non-tourist zones. The review of licences is thought to include the existing Resorts World Manila as well as the wider Manila Bay Entertainment City project.
This emphasis on a “tourist destination” seemed to be confirmed in September 2011 when PAGCOR chairman Naguiat explained, “PAGCOR is committed to creating a multifaceted leisure and entertainment centre that is internationally benchmarked. This way, the Philippines can compete with the best in the world and attract the lion’s share of tourists”. A few months later in December 2011 PAGCOR said it would be appointing an independent consultancy to ensure the Manila Bay licensees adhered to the standards outlined by PAGCOR.
There is also the possibility that the government-owned PAGCOR could be privatised. President Aquino has said that he would consider privatising PAGCOR in an attempt to stop corruption and get the highest amount of revenues for the state. By conducting the review of the business he could be making preparations to get the best price for PAGCOR if it is privatised in the future.
Senator Ralph Recto introduced a bill in 2012 – Senate Bill 3178 “An Act Creating the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOM), authorising the appropriation of funds therefore, and for other purposes” – that would see PAGCOR have its regulatory powers removed and transferred to a new organisation, the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Commission (PAGCOM). PAGCOR’s gambling operations would then be privatised.
Other proposals in Senator Recto’s bill include: a requirement for casinos to focus on foreign tourists, licences only issued to municipalities and cities with more than 100,000 foreign tourists per year, and an entry fee to casinos for local customers.
The casino resorts coming to completion in Manila are clearly on a scale very different to what exists in the Philippines at present. It is only natural, therefore, that there are concerns in some quarters as to the impact they will have. These same concerns have been raised in other jurisdictions which have proposed such large scale gaming projects e.g. Singapore, Taiwan, and the UK.
As the different resorts at Manila Bay open for business over the coming years it is evitable that their performance will be compared to their counterparts in nearby Macau. But there seems to be an appreciation that Manila will offer something different.