Philippines online gambling ruling panned; Manila Bay Resorts breaks ground

manila-bay-resorts-groundbreakingThe head of the Philippines’ Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) has spoken out against the recent Court of Appeals ruling that there was nothing in the nation’s gambling laws that specifically prohibited online gambling. The Inquirer quoted CIDG director Samuel D. Pagdilao Jr. as saying the ruling would have a “far-reaching negative effect on the overall effort of the CIDG and other law enforcement units against online gambling operations.” Pagdilao urged lawmakers to get cracking on new legislation that would restore some muscle to the long arm of the law. (Fortunately, there are still laws against gambling in graveyards, as four men in Laoag City found out on Thursday.)

Make no mistake: gambling is a big deal in the Philippines. On Thursday, Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) chairman Cristino Naguiat Jr. confidently predicted his nation’s casino gaming revenues would top $11b in five years time, helpfully adding that such a sum “will beat Las Vegas.” Naguiat made the comment at the groundbreaking ceremony of the ambitious Entertainment City project in Manila Bay. (While the project has been referred to by many different names, the official moniker is Bagong Nayong Pilipino-Entertainment City Manila.) Four companies will eventually have facilities in the project: Bloomsbury Investments, Travelers International Hotel Group (a JV between Genting and Alliance Global Group), Philippines developers Belle Corp. and Japanese pachinko giant Universal Entertainment (through subsidiary Tiger Resorts, Leisure and Entertainment Inc.).

Bloomsbury and Belle expect to open their doors in 2013, while Universal doesn’t expect its Manila Bay Resorts project to start generating revenue until 2014. Nevertheless, Universal chairman Kazuo Okada expects great things from “the next huge entertainment tourism hub in the region … considering its proximity to China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, Manila has a competitive advantage over other major Asian cities.” That must be why Wynn Resorts (which has operations in Macau) strenuously objected to Universal’s Manila Bay plan. Okada is Wynn’s single largest shareholder, which Wynn felt put Okada in a conflict of interest, prompting them to remove him from his vice-chairman position, which prompted Okada to sue Wynn to get a look at their books, and so on, and so on…

Naguiat told reporters at the groundbreaking that foreign investors – including hedge fund managers – were clamoring to get a piece of that sweet Philippines casino action. As reported by ABS-CBN News, Naguiat said he was “hearing a lot of talks” between those standing on the outside and existing investors in the Philippines gaming sector. While he declined to provide any specifics, he did remind reporters that outfits such as Melco Crown Entertainment had initially expressed interest in getting in on the Entertainment City project. Yeah, them and everyone else who can sense the gaming world’s eastward tilt