A $500 million casino resort has been given the green light by the Philippine gaming regulator, making the project on the central island of Cebu the country’s first integrated gambling destination outside of the capital of Manila.

In an effort to make the Philippines more attractive to both investors and leisure travelers, President Rodrigo Duterte has directed PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation) to grow the country’s gaming revenues. The controversial leader, who only hours after being sworn in as the country’s 16th president vowed to shut down online gambling and revoke existing licenses in the Southeast Asian country, has given PAGCOR a target deadline of 2020 to make the country “the top gaming and entertainment destination in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).”

PAGCOR chairman, Andrea Domingo, told a briefing that “Cebu is the second largest metropolis in our country,” and, “There are cities there near the airport where the local governments welcome casinos.”

Funds for the $500 million development in Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu, will be put up by a Filipino-owned company. Meanwhile, the gaming regulator has also received a $300 million bid from a Hong Kong-based firm to build a resort casino on the island of Mandaue, a highly urbanized city located on the central eastern coastal region of Cebu, according to Reuters. The bilateral relations between China and the Philippines has been toxic due to the worsening South China Sea dispute, however, Duterte set aside territorial hostility last year and partnered with China, over the US approach.

According to the report, PAGCOR won’t issue any new gaming licenses in the Philippine capital of Manila within the next five years, following requests from integrated casino resort operators. Domingo reportedly said, “We listened to the people who were here, who took a risk when there was no one else here.”

Just last week, a group of potential investors who were to provide funding for the Mactan Leisure City casino in Cebu City, a project being led by Philippine-based company Calata Corp., reportedly backed out due to Duterte’s heavy hand.

On December 30, the Philippine affiliate of Japan’s Universal Entertainment Corp., Tiger Resort, Leisure and Entertainment Inc., launched its $2.4-billion casino project, making it the third player in the Entertainment City, Asia’s Las Vegas-like gaming and entertainment complex.

According to the news agency, revenue of 155 billion to 160 billion pesos ($3.1 billion to $3.2 billion) is being targeted by the Philippines this year, rising from 4 percent to 7 percent from 2016, as indicated by PAGCOR data.

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