When City of Dreams Manila officially opens its doors to the public later this year, it will become the second of the four integrated resorts that will make up Entertainment City. More importantly, though, it also marks the beginning of Melco Crown chairman James Packer’s gamble on the Philippine market.
Not that he doesn’t realize it, because Packer knows all too well how important it is to have a presence in the Asian casino market. He already has a pair of casinos in Macau with a third one scheduled to open next year. He’s also hitching his wagon in Sri Lanka while also voicing interest in pursuing casino licenses in both Japan and Taiwan.
But in the near future, the focus is on building up interest for City of Dreams Manila, the joint project he and Melco Crown partner Lawrence Ho are taking up with Belle Corporation, a company owned by the Philippines’ richest man, Henry Sy.
“This is a bet on the Philippines and it is a bet on China,” Packer told a group of reporters las week in the Philippines. Yep, he was in the country to attend a star-studded launch ceremony announcing the opening of luxury boutique hotel chain Nobu as part of the City of Dreams Manila complex. The Nobu hotel will be one of three in the complex and will be the company’s first hotel in Asia. It’s a pretty big deal when the ceremony is attended by no less than celebrity chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa and his Hollywood A-list partner, Robert De Niro.
All that pomp and celebration wouldn’t have been possible without Packer’s commitment to expand his Australian casino empire into the market. The man knows when and where to strike, and together with Ho, targeted the Philippines as a prime destination for its growing resort and casino empire. A lot of analysts have become bullish on the Philippines’ casino market once all four integrated resorts open. Locals are expected to come in droves, and that’s a good thing. But the real target, at least as far as Packer and Ho are concerned, are the Chinese high rollers, the very same people largely responsible for turning Macau into the world’s biggest casino destination. These people will always flock to Macau, and that’ll probably never change.
But for those looking for a different sample of the high-flyin’ lifestyle of high-roller gambling, flying into a country that’s less than two hours away is a very attractive option, especially if the resorts and casinos in the country boast of the equal five-star quality than the ones they’ve been accustomed to in Macau.
That’s what James Packer is counting on, and like a man who has built his empire on the basic premise of gambling, his roll of the dice on the Philippines not only signifies his faith in the country’s ability to be a big-time casino player in the region, but also his faith in his own company to be one of the biggest driving forces in the Philippines attaining that level of prestige.