Both land-based gambling and online casinos in the Philippines are fully legal and serve domestic and foreign players alike. As the country aims to further boost its casino sector, foreign investors are also welcome in the country.
It goes without saying, however, that the Philippine gambling laws do not constitute the only legal framework that investors must observe. There are quite a few other acts and regulations that companies must adhere to, and a Japanese company may be about to find it out the hard way.
Philippine authorities are considering charging Universal Entertainment Corporation’s head Kazuo Okada, along with 25 Japanese and local individuals with trying to circumvent foreign ownership restrictions set out in the country’s Public Land Act.
The law stipulates that the share of foreigners in land-owning entities may not exceed 40%. Investigators claim that Universal purchased land for its planned Manila casino project through up to ten front companies, registered and owned by individuals close to the Japanese mogul and his company.
According to a DOJ statement, the companies in question “were actually dummies or fronts for Universal Entertainment, meant to circumvent or evade laws of nationalization of certain rights, franchises or privileges.”
Universal of course insists that it acted lawfully and in accordance with legal advice it had received. Whatever the facts are in this particular case, Universal is not a new name on the gambling news pages. Although mainly a gaming machine company, it also owns 21% of Wynn Resorts, the operator of four casino resorts in Las Vegas and Macau.
It now remains to be seen whether this turn of events will hamper Universal’s plans to build the USD 2 billion casino, or if the company has fallen out of grace with the authorities for good. For now the parties are facing an impending court case, which itself may delay all casino plans by years.