Is Change in the Wind for the Philippines Casino Industry?

PH Resorts, a Philippine-listed firm, has received approval from the Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to move forward on plans to fund several casino-related projects. PH Resorts, owned by businessman Dennis Uy, was formerly known as Philippine H2O Ventures Corp. They plan to sell 1.786 billion common shares using  the China Banking Corp. as the domestic lead underwriter for the offering. 

The sell-off is intended to be used to raise funds to develop a new Grande Vegas online casino - type casino resort, the Emerald Resort and Casino of Mactan Island, located in Cebu province. The integrated resort’s site will be in the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga and will involve expansion of the nearby Central Visayas Donatela Hotel in Panglao, Bohol.

The company plans to construct the Emerald over a 13.5-hectare property. The plans include establishing a 1,300 room five-star hotel that will eventually reach 9,400 square meters. PH Resorts will also undertake the renovation of the Donatela to complement the Emerald. The Donatela is located just 50 miles away and will serve as a family-oriented hotel option. The plans also involve the construction of a mall and convention center.

PH Resorts was, until a month ago, known as H2O Ventures and it was a water utility company. By changing the name to PH Resorts the company has signaled its intention to change its line of business to a casino resort firm. Casino expansion has been stymied in recent years by President Rodrigo Duterte’s opposition to gambling. But Uy is a friend of Duterte and if anyone stands a chance of opening a new casino in the Philippines, it’s him.

Okada Manila

Okada Manila has come up with a new plan to pull in Chinese gamblers, the bread and butter of most of the world’s casinos today.  The casino’s operator, Universal Entertainment Corp, recently signed a letter of intent with CTS Shanghai Zohngqiao International, a Chinese travel agency, to work together to offer package tours to Chinese travelers.

Universal said, in its announcement, “The company and CTS Shanghai Zhongqiao International Travel Service Co. Ltd will commence the discussion on efforts to plan and develop sightseeing tour packages for attracting tourists to the Philippines in the Chinese market.”

CTS Shanghai Zohngqiao International is a state-operated travel agency and is one of the three largest in China. The agency arranges travel domestically and internationally, that caters to budget and mid-market travelers.

Okada Manila hopes that the collaboration will “serve to expand tourism business in the Republic of the Philippines, attract tourists from overseas to the Okada Manila integrated resort operated by the company group in Manila, the Philippines, and so forth.”

Bangladesh Bank Heist Trial Conclusion

Maia Santos-Deguito, a bank employee, was sentenced to four to seven years in prison by the Makati Regional Trial Court in Manila for her part in the Bangladesh bank heist of 2016.

Judge Cesar Untalan found Santos-Deguito, former manager of a branch of the RCBC bank, guilty of money laundering. Santos-Dequito received approximately $81 million in stolen funds, which she then channeled into Philippine casinos.

Untalan wrote, in his decision, that Deguito “was able to prepare, beforehand, for these remittances in crystal clear violation of the AMLA [Anti-Money Laundering Act]… Accused Deguito has taken advantage of her position in the bank and her banking knowledge and experience, hence accused Deguito was able to execute and implement these illegal transactions with ease.”

The court indicated that Dequito knew about the transfer of stolen funds but there does not seem to be any evidence that she herself received any of the funds. The funds were sent to “William Go” and “J.C. Lagrgos.”

Untalan also wrote that “[A]ccused Deguito had not only facilitated these subject illegal bank transactions; but accused Deguito had coordinated and corroborated to the execution and implementation of these illegal bank transactions for an easy and prompt execution for credit and transfer to the account of Mr. William Go, disregarding and putting aside any obstacles and distraction.”

Dequito’s lawyer said that they will continue to appeal the decision all the way to the Philippine Supreme Court. Throughout the appeal process, Dequito will remain out on bail.

After the heist, Philippine lawmakers passed legislation that provides for casinos to be included under the country’s AMLA which requires that the casino report all transactions above $96,000 to the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Some observers believe that Chinese junket operators are responsible for the heist but the Philippines Department of Justice has not uncovered any evidence to support this claim. 

Will Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte Rethink his Opposition to Gambling?

The head of the Philippines gaming regulator has, reportedly, requested that President Rodrigo Duterte lift his ban on the building of new privately-financed casinos. Andrea Domingo, Chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation has asked Duterte to rethink his opposition so that the nation can take advantage of the opportunities that the casino industry might bring.

Domingo was reported as saying that “Gaming seems to be the sunrise industry now in Asia. 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.”

Duterte initiated his prohibition last year. Domingo said that the PAGC has, thus far, authorized 13 new casinos that were approved before Duterte’s ban. Together with five recent licenses that have already been granted, this involves a combined minimum investment of $1.5 billion.

Domingo points out that her nation’s aggregated gross gaming revenues rose by about 13% year on year in 2018 that hit an all-time high of close to $3.79 billion. She forecasts that the 2019 figure could grow again by around 8.5% to reach $4.11 billion.

To date, Duterte has not given any indication that he is prepared to step down from his ban on granting new casino licenses. But the rise in Chinese visitors – who almost uniformly want to spend at least some of their travel time in a casino – may help to change his mind.

 

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