MANILA, Philippines – The devout Catholic wife of the country’s richest man is not keen on the gaming and casino ventures likely considered as new cash cow of Philippine companies in the coming years.
Felicidad “Mollie” Tan-Sy, wife of mall magnate Henry Sy Sr., did not support her family’s business strategy to include casino operations in their diversified portfolio, prompting efforts to build walls that isolate gambling activities from the other businesses.
“My mother does not really go for that,” Teresita Sy-Coson, the Sy’s eldest daughter, told Rappler when asked how her mother handled the family’s decision on the casino business.
The casino business is “not our main core,” Sy-Coson stressed. The family’s main cash cows are malls (SM mall network), banks (Banco de Oro and China Bank), retail (SM Supermarkets), and property development (SM Development Corp.).
“This casino thing is really more with the Belle [Corp.],” Sy-Coson explained, referring to the high-end property arm of their listed holding firm, SM Investments Corp. (SMIC).
Watch Rappler’s Katherine Visconti’s interview with Sy-Coson at the sidelines of a business conference in Makati Shangrila Hotel.
Belle Corp, which is about 60%-owned by SMIC, was the group’s foray into the gaming industry, starting with SMIC’s purchase of a stake in casino-hosting Tagaytay Highlands about a decade ago.
Belle is one of the 4 business groups granted the right to build and operate casino and entertainment operations at the up-and-coming 120-hectare Pagcor Entertainment City, Manila’s big bet on the booming Asian gaming industry.
The sprawling casino and entertainment property sits almost next to the landmark Mall of Asia complex of the Sy group at the Manila Bay. Both are near The Shrine of Jesus, a Catholic church built with the support of Mrs. Sy.
The Catholic church — a powerful group in the only country in Southeast Asia with a majority Christian population — is opposing gambling, citing its ill-effects on family, the core unit of the church.
Mrs. Sy has been an ardent supporter of church-led activities and has funded the construction of some Catholic churches, most of them in locations near SM malls.
She is active in SM Foundation, which acknowledged in its annual report that “an active spiritual foundation for individuals and communities is the bedrock of our faith advocacy.”
“Aside from sponsoring the regular Sunday Masses in SM malls, SM Foundation also supports various parishes, congregations and religious missions. On the initiative of Mrs. Felicidad Sy, we continue to pursue our dream of building a “spiritual engine” that serves our customers, our partner communities and our nation as a whole,” it added. SM Malls are a typical weekend destination for some Filipinos.
She has reportedly been instrumental in the banning of Adults-Only movies in SM cinemas, resulting in the drastic decline of sexy movies in the Philippines. SM has the widest network of cinemas nationwide.
In a previous Philippine Star interview, Mr. Sy was quoted as saying, “I am Catholic, but yes, it’s my wife Felicidad Tan Sy who is the most devout among us in the family. She devotes almost all her time and money to the Catholic Church.”
Given Mrs. Sy’s aversion to activities frowned upon by the church, the family heeded it by entering into a partnership that allows SMIC to still get a piece of the casino action.
“Belle is actually just renting out the building. So we’re still in the property development [business],” said Sy-Coson.
Sy-Coson is referring to a deal with Melco Crown Entertainment, a Macau-based casino operator and led by Australian billionaire James Packer with his partner, Lawrence Ho, son of Macau casino magnate Stanley Ho.
Under the memorandum of agreement sealed by Belle and Melco last July, Belle will remain as lessor of the land from the government, but will turn over to Melco the task of continuing the constructing, fitting out and operating Belle Grande Manila Bay, the group’s landmark project set for a grand launch in the first quarter of 2013.
Melco will then invest about $580 million for the development of a casino and entertainment resort at the sprawling Pagcor Entertainment City. This venture is expected to benefit from Melco’s existing network of casinos in Australia and Macau, the world’s gambling mecca. In the casino business, providing different gaming destinations for the high-roller clients is the name of the game.
Belle executives have long acknowledged that while they own the casino license, it lacks gambling experience. Belle has been seeking a partner to outsource services, especially the casino management.
Belle was initially considering partnering with US-based Harrah’s Entertainment, the world’s largest casino operator. However, talks failed in 2010, prompting Belle to tap instead local public company Leisure & Resorts World Corp (LRWC), which operates bingo and interactive games licensing at the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority. Plans with LRWC changed along the way, paving the way for the entry of Melco. – Rappler.com