$2 Billion Philippine Casino Project Surrounded by Uncertainty

Philippine gambling laws - GamingZion

Despite the construction being almost completed, the casino cannot open its doors until Okada finds a local business partner.

Japanese tycoon Kazuo Okada is parading his $2 billion mega casino project, but is yet to find a business partner for his investment. As recent gambling news have reported, his company is in talks with several listed firms, hoping to identify a local partner, but no deal has been signed yet.

Local authorities say the construction process is expected to be completed by the beginning of 2015. Depending on how soon Okada finds a local firm to partner up with, the casino resort located in Parañaque could open for business next year. But there’s also a chance that it could be years until the new resort welcomes its first visitors.

Controversial casino project

Okada’s plans to develop a major casino resort in the Philippines go way back, as far as 2008 when his company Universal Entertainment bought development rights to a 44-hectare site in Manila Bay. Back then, the company was given a provisional license by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) to operate a casino.

The construction of the resort is moving forward and the developer says all plans are on schedule, but one essential piece of the puzzle is still missing. Under Philippine gambling laws, Universal Entertainment needs a local business partner in order to receive a full license to operate the gambling venue, and Okada hasn’t found him yet.

In May 2013, Tiger Resorts Leisure and Entertainment – the company controlling the Manila Bay project – ended its partnership with Robinsons Land and this March the agreement with Century Properties was also terminated. Now the casino developer is under the clock to find a new local partner. Otherwise, the venue may have to keep its doors closed.

Legal dilemma

According to Pagcor chairman Cristino Naguiat, Tiger Resorts cannot start commercial operation of the casino without a partner from the Philippines. “Their commitment is for them to set up by March next year,” he told reporters.

Three Manila Bay casino projects are already fully licensed:

The Solaire Casino and Resort

City of Dreams Manila

Resorts World Bayshore

A statement released by the casino developer said: “Universal Entertainment continues to contribute to the Philippine economy and to generate employment by carrying forward our casino resort project Manila Bay Resorts.”

But there are more serious problems Kazuo Okada has to deal with. The gambling magnate has been accused of using dummy corporations to meet the requirements for obtaining a casino license. As if this wasn’t enough, the businessman didn’t even bother to show up to explain himself in front of the House committee on games and amusement.

“We believe we should address this problem now rather than wait until Okada has completed his project and the government would be forced to bend over backward for him just to prevent an international lawsuit,”
committee chair Elpidio Barzaga warned.

Manila Bay, the new casino capital

Authorities have been doing their best to help the gambling industry grow. Internet laws in the Philippines even allow companies to apply for online casino licenses, which is unique to Asia. Meanwhile, the 120-hectare Pagcor Entertainment City is being promoted as the Philippine version of major gaming hubs such as Las Vegas or Macau.

Port mogul Enrique Razon opened his $1.2-billion Solaire Casino and Resort last year, while SM Group’s Belle Corporation and casino giant Melco Crown Entertainment will inaugurate their $1.3-billion project City of Dreams Manila later in October. Titled Resorts World Bayshore, the third project is valued at $1.1 billion and was implemented by Travellers International Hotel Group. Officials expect the resort to open in 2017.

“With the right blend of private sector investment, regulatory maturity and improvements in tourism infrastructure, we believe that a 10% slice of the world’s gaming pie in a few years’ time is an achievable target,”
Naguiat said.

Okada pushing forward

The Okada Group is one of the four companies that obtained licenses to operate a casino resort in Entertainment City and the Japanese developer claims it will start “mass hiring” of operational staff soon.

An official statement released by the group said: “We project employment will reach 15,000 both for direct and indirect employees, once our project is finished.”

The entertainment complex should open sometime in the third quarter of 2015. Until then, a number of problems remain to be solved. Under the current conditions, critics say the project could become a huge waste of money and time, while others believe Okada is powerful and rich enough to get away with it. Here’s an old video showing what the project could look like:

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