Solaire casino plans to tap boxing crowd
MANILA, Philippines – Casinos and boxing have been enjoying a symbiotic relationship for several decades, beginning in the late '70s when the big fights started to move away from New York City to the deserts of Las Vegas and shores of Atlantic City.
The excitement that big-time prizefighting brings to a casino was not lost on Michael French when he was installed as chief operating officer (COO) of Solaire Resort in Pasay City, which is the first of 4 casino properties to open in what has been dubbed the Entertainment City.
French oversaw the operations at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas from 1995 to 1998, a period in which the venue hosted the heavyweight title bout between Lennox Lewis and Andrew Golota, as well as the classic third bout between former heavyweight champions Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe.
"It just changes the whole makeup of the customer base," says French, who also worked with The Venetian Las Vegas. "These are national celebrities and they all have entourages and the town just goes crazy when these kinds of fights happen.
"A lot of study went into 'what do casino players like?' Most casino players that play table games are men, they like to take risk, they are entrepreneurial and like to live life on the edge. That's kind of a lot about what boxing is."
So when ABS-CBN began shopping around the hosting rights to the pitting of World Boxing Organization (WBO) strawweight champion Merlito Sabillo of Bacolod City against Colombian challenger Jorle Estrada, French says he jumped at the opportunity.
Promoted by Cebu-based ALA Promotions last Saturday, July 13, the show drew an estimated crowd of 1,500 to the Grand Ballroom, which included many of the network's top celebrities, including Bea Alonzo and Jake Cuenca.
The show, which saw Sabillo retain his title by a 9th-round knockout, was a steep improvement from typical local boxing events, which are a far cry from the glamour of casino prizefighting.
French says that they would love to do more boxing and mixed-martial-arts events at the venue, but the ballroom's limited size makes it hard to hold events of global significance without partnering with a larger venue, like the Mall of Asia Arena, which they partnered with in hosting the King of the Cage MMA event on July 5.
"We've talked about doing [Ultimate Fighting Championship] here," said French. "We'd love to be regulars of doing events of this nature." He cautions that events would need to have a "Filipino tie-in" to be marketable.
"[I don't think] just doing a big prizefight like the heavyweight champion doesn't make sense here," continues French. "I guess Muhammad Ali did one, the Thrilla in Manila [in 1975], but right now we wouldn't be looking to do that here, it's just too big for us."
The holy grail of global boxing events for any venue would be to host a Manny Pacquiao event. Pacquiao, who will face former lightweight titleholder Brandon Rios on November 23 (US Time) in Macau, has not fought in the Philippines since his 2006 decision victory over Oscar Larios at Araneta Coliseum. But with his Las Vegas-based promoter Top Rank looking to Asia and their abundance of high roller-filled casinos, the idea seems more realistic than ever before.
"I can imagine that. Sometimes financials get pretty rough out in the thing when you consider the prize package and the rights to broadcast and so forth, so it depends on what the fight is, what the economics are. We'd love to be tied in with it, it's a great event for us."
Solaire will host a simulcast of the Pacquiao-Rios fight, which will be similar to the closed circuit broadcasts Vegas casinos host for major prizefights.
Solaire, which opened in mid-March and is owned by Bloomberry Resorts Corp., will be the only casino on the block until October of 2014, when the Melco Crown-owned Belle Grande is set to open. Tiger Resorts, which is owned by Japanese casino magnate Kazuo Okada, is expected to open early in 2015 while Resorts World Bayshore, which is operated by Alliance Global Group Inc. and Genting Hong Kong Ltd., will follow in either 2016 or 2017.
French welcomes the competition as he believes that having more casinos will generate international interest in Entertainment City, with all parties benefiting.
"In gaming, a couple of places around isn't bad," said French. "If you look at Las Vegas, you look at Macau, they're all packed with casinos. You say how does that work? They're competing with each other. Casino customers like to bounce back and forth a lot. They have their favorite place, but sometimes they have their good second favorite and they feel, 'Well if I'm not winning here, I'll try this other place.' And we get the benefit of that, sometimes we lose. We need more critical mass here in Entertainment City.
"We're happy that the Belle Grande Melco Crown Casino is going to be opening soon," continues French. "That brings more attention to us, more critical mass to us, they'll be marketing to the international player as well, they'll be out marketing Manila as well. To pioneer is tough, it gives us the first mover advantage because we can create loyal customers." – Rappler.com