SkyCity Manila rumors; Phlippines to ease financial transaction reporting; Taiwan casino bill sent to Cabinet

skycity-philippines-taiwan-casinoNew Zealand/Australian casino operator SkyCity Entertainment Group is attempting to quiet rumors that it is considering expanding into the Philippines gaming market. The New Zealand Herald started the kerfuffle with a vague report that SkyCity was planning a NZ $200m (US $168m) gaming project in Manila that would get underway this year, but offered no further specifics. With his phone ringing off the hook, SkyCity CEO Nigel Morrison released a statement confirming the company had visited the Philippines, had found the market “attractive” and was “continuing to monitor the competitive landscape and build relationships with key stakeholders in this developing market.”

That said, Morrison claimed nothing was as far along as to require mandatory disclosure to shareholders. SkyCity has already committed AU $300m (US $313m) to expanding its casino in Adelaide while waiting for local government okay on a $350m project in Auckland. In December, SkyCity took over full control of the Queenstown casino while shedding its half-share in the casino in Christchurch. SkyCity is set to report its fiscal H1 revenue figures on Feb. 13.

The Philippine Senate cut both brick-and-mortar and online casinos a break this week by adopting a proposed amendment to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) that spared gambling companies from having to report innocuous financial transactions merely because they breached a numeric threshold. The inclusion of casinos under the AMLA umbrella – a requirement of the international Financial Action Task Force body – would have meant reporting all transactions over P500k ($12.3k).

Instead, the Business Mirror reported that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile proposed an amendment to Senate Bill 3123 that would obligate casino operators to report only those transactions in which “there is knowledge or suspicion of money laundering.” Enrile justified the amendment by saying casino operators “deal with games of chance where transactions may not be destined by a threshold amount … casino players may start with P1k, then accumulate P1m  in an hour and lose everything in a minute. If mandatory reporting is based on threshold amount as by law, the report will vary as luck or chance swings and render the report unreliable.” Enrile noted that the Philippine government had made great efforts to attract foreign investment in the country’s gaming sector, and that international companies had made “huge investments … in the belief that the condition they started to plan their investment would not be altered.”

Taiwan’s Transportation Minister Mao Chih-kuo says the country’s long-awaited draft casino legislation is ready for screening by the Cabinet. Focus Taiwan quoted Mao saying the various government agencies had weighed in with their opinions, “which will be reviewed by the Executive Yuan in the coming days.” Assuming the Cabinet signs off on the draft, the casino bill would proceed to the full Legislature for debate, while an actual vote is not expected until June. The draft law is a two-headed beast: one bill concerns itself with regulating management and operation of the casinos, while a second bill would establish a gaming regulator to oversee the casino licensees. The news will likely please developer Weidner Resorts, which has been aggressively pushing for the government to get the lead out so it can proceed with its ambitious casino project in the Matsu island chain.