A declared January 2018 moratorium on new casinos in the Philippines should be lifted so that the country can benefit from a “sunrise” industry, Andrea Domingo (pictured), the head of the nation’s gaming regulator was quoted as saying in an interview with Bloomberg.
Even after news of the moratorium emerged some weeks after its imposition last year, a number of new-to-market schemes were announced. The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor) clarified however that the moratorium related to any schemes not already approved by the time the ban took effect.
The regulator took its lead from President Rodrigo Duterte. Early in his administration – which began in mid-2016 – Mr Duterte had expressed concern about the proliferation of online and bricks and mortar gambling outlets in the nation.
In August last year, the Manila Standard newspaper had quoted Mr Duterte as saying in a speech delivered in Cebu: “I’m not issuing any franchise for gambling in the entire Philippines now. It’s a moratorium… I hate gambling.”
A high-profile project by Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd – for a low-density luxury casino resort on the holiday island of Boracay with a local partner – faced headwinds last year, although the Philippine government in several instances said that related to specific issues concerning the environment and general land rights for local islanders.
Nonetheless Ms Domingo indicated in her comments published on Wednesday that there was room for pragmatism.
“Gaming seems to be the sunrise industry now in Asia,” Ms Domingo was quoted as saying.
“There are still areas in the Philippines that can still absorb and benefit from these investments, which won’t go here with the current ban,” she added.
Notwithstanding the moderating rates of growth in China’s economy as it absorbs what some analysts say is the effects of the trade war prosecuted by the United States, a number of countries neighbouring the Philippines are seeking to cash in on Chinese consumer demand for overseas travel and casino gambling.
Existing Philippine operators are trying to seize the opportunity.
Last week Japanese brokerage Nomura said it expected to see speedier GGR growth from now until at least 2020 for Bloomberry Resorts Corp – a private-sector casino operator running Solaire Resort and Casino in the Philippine capital Manila – thanks in part to the growing popularity of the country with Chinese tourists. It cited data showing such inbound tourist business up 30 percent year-on-year for the first 11 months of 2018.
Additionally last week, Ms Domingo was quoted by Reuters saying 2018 gross gaming revenue (GGR) in the casino business in the Philippines grew to about PHP200 billion (US$3.79 billion), 13 percent more than the year before.
Her forecast for 2019 casino GGR was for 8.5-percent growth, to PHP217 billion. That would be another record for Philippine GGR.
In other comments from Ms Domingo reported by Bloomberg on Wednesday, she said the five casino permits most recently awarded for places outside the Philippine capital, would result in the respective venues opening in the next five years, and represented a combined investment value of at least US$1.5 billion.
She was also cited saying that Pagcor had so far licensed 13 private-sector, resort-type properties.
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”We believe the positive stance from China towards Macau would help market sentiment in the near term despite limited short term benefit to the [casino] gross gaming revenue”
Kenneth Fong, Lok Kan Chan and Rebecca Law
Analysts at Credit Suisse