FAST FACTS: What you need to know about the Philippine casino industry

MANILA, Philippines – "Sin" cities in the Philippines are in the limelight. Again. 

Casinos, which belong to the same "sin bin" category as vices like tobacco and booze, are currently facing serious business threats.

Not only are the Philippine operators facing the possibility of losing their competitive advantage with their looming coverage under the anti-money laundering law (AMLA); the deadly attack at Manila's first casino-in-a-resort has also been front and center of media attention here and elsewhere. (READ: TIMELINE: Resorts World Manila attack

The June 2 Resorts World Manila incident has caught most of the attention: 36 died from suffocation inside the casino complex after Jesse Carlos, a heavily indebted former Department of Finance employee, fired gunshots and set ablaze gaming tables. 

Both the legislative hearings on the AMLA amendments and the probe into the Resorts World incident will keep this "sin" industry in the limelight for the coming months.

Here's what you need to know about the Philippine casino industry.

1. It's a P118 billion-worth business

While the Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, gambling in casino premises is a legal vice. (Number games jueteng, jai-alai-related masiao, and sports-related "last two" are considered illegal.)

Since 1976, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) has been overseeing games of chance, particularly casino gambling. These generate funds that augment the government's budget for infrastructure and socio-civic projects. 

Aside from regulating casinos, Pagcor also operates its own Casino Filipino-branded network nationwide. Things started to change in 2008 when the Arroyo government decided to open up the Philippine gambling market to the world, essentially removing Pagcor's monopoly. 

That ambitious decision to compete head on with the billion dollars-worth of gambling sites in neighboring Macau, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as in Las Vegas and Australia, led to the rise of integrated casino-entertainment "resorts" in Manila.

Enclaves such as Newport City next to the international airport and the sprawling Entertainment City adjacent to a reclaimed land in Manila Bay were born.

It's a decision that's paid off. In the first 9 months of 2016, the Philippine gaming industry was worth P118 billion in terms of gross gaming revenue (GGR). It's a far cry from P56 billion GGR in 2012.

The casino-entertainment complexes in Entertainment City have been and will likely be the main money-makers and tourist draws in the coming years.

Investment bank Credit Suisse projected that the country's gambling industry will earn gaming revenue of $6 billion (P297.35 billion) by 2018, potentially making the Philippines among the top 4 in the world.

2. Entertainment City is the Philippines' casino hotspot 

There are several privately-operated gambling houses and casino-entertainment destinations that operate under a Pagcor license.

Clark, a former US military base converted into a multi-use location in Central Luzon, is host to Fontana Resort, Royce Casino, Widus Resort, Casino Casablanca and Midori Casino. Thunderbird Resorts Philippines has two operations in northern Luzon.

But these account for only 327 gaming tables, or less than 18% of the 1,845 total as of September 2016. Pagcor-operated ones have a combined 565 gaming tables, or equivalent to only 31%.  

The main action happens at the gaming strip in Entertainment City. 

Due to the regulatory changes in the casino industry, investors in Entertainment City were required to spend at least $1 billion on their facilities and were required to follow a certain ratio of gaming table to hotel room. 

These "resorts" then attract not only gamblers, but also high-end tourists and visitors who want to stay in luxurious hotels, eat in posh restaurants, and watch world-class entertaiment shows. 

They are also located close to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) so if need be, their guests can be ferried via an expressway that helps those who are flying in to skip road traffic. 

 

Currently, there are 4 operational integrated casino-entertainment complexes in Manila: 3 in Entertainment City and one in Newport.

First-mover was Resorts World Manila, which is in Newport City, a property development of the business group of Filipino tycoon Andrew Tan. Resorts World Manila is located right across Terminal 3 of NAIA. (READ: FAST FACTS: What you need to know about Resorts World Manila)

The joint venture between the Tan's holding firm Alliance Global and the Hong Kong unit of Malaysia-headquartered casino operator Genting had a 4-year headstart before the others in Entertainment City – a few blocks away – opened their doors to the public. 

 

Filipinos and foreigners had the first taste of the 4 promised Las Vegas- or Macau-styled glitzy casinos in Entertainment City when Solaire Resort & Casino was launched.

Operating it is Bloomberry Resorts Corporation, which is controlled by Filipino ports tycoon Enrique Razon.  

Almost a year after, City of Dreams also opened to the public. The second mega casino in Entertainment City gaming strip is operated by Melco Resorts & Entertainment Limited in collaboration with the Philippines' Belle Corporation.

Melco Crown is a major Macau casino-resort operator led by gambling tycoon Lawrence Ho and Australian casino magnate James Packer. 

Belle Corp is controlled by the Sy family, the Philippines' richest. Patriarch Henry Sy Sr is among the world's 100 richest dollar-billionaires. His wife is a devout Catholic. (READ: Mrs Sy is not keen on casino business

The most recently opened is Okada Manila, which, like Solaire, is next to the bay, offering its guests a view of the iconic Manila Bay sunset.

In March, it unveiled a crowd drawer: the "world's biggest multicolor dancing fountain." 

Operating it is Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment Incorporated led by Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada, a former part-owner at Wynn Resorts, which has several operations in Las Vegas and Macau. 

Okada's Filipino partner is businessman Tonyboy Cojuangco Jr who used to own and operate phone giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT).  

The 5th casino resort in Manila (and the last of the 4 in Entertainment City complex) is the Resorts World Bayshore. It is slated for opening in 2020. 

It will be the second integrated resort in Manila of Andrew Tan-led Travellers International, which also operates Resorts World.  

For Fitch Ratings, initial results of the first 3 casinos (Resorts World Manila, City of Dreams, and Solaire) are encouraging, relative to the investments poured into them. 

But with increased competition in the industry, earlier developments have taken a hit. "The greater Manila market is showing signs of maturation with Resorts World Manila, the first privately-owned resort, showing steep declines amid the ramp-up of the newer resorts," the global debt watcher said in a report.

"We expect high single-digit gross gaming revenue in 2017 driven by the opening of the $2.4 billion Okada Manila and the continued economic growth in the Philippines," it added. 

Likewise, Credit Suisse noted the decline in market share of gross gaming revenues from Resorts World Manila.

From it's 50% share in 2012, estimates put Resorts World Manila's market share at 19% in 2017, as it shares the market with other integrated resort-casinos.

Credit Suisse predicts that Solaire will dominate with 36% of the market by end-2017. 

3. VIP gamers still rule...for now 

Latest data from Pagcor showed junket-sourced VIP business makes up a third of the private casinos' gross gaming revenue.

VIP gamblers are foreigners flown into the Philippines by independent entrepreneurs or junket operators who arrange credit lines and luxury accommodation for their clients. These gamblers don't play along with the general and mass market clients, but are ushered into special rooms reserved for them. 

Gaming veteran Ben Lee told Forbes that growth in the VIP segments has come mainly from proxy betting, which is illegal in Macau. Proxy betting is a platform by which a person outside the casino gives betting instructions to an agent inside.

Lee noted that Koreans still dominate the junket segment as far as overseas visitors are concerned.

Competition from Macau and other gaming jurisdictions in Asia and the Pacific will restrain the growth of private casinos in the Philippines in the longer term, stressed Fitch in a January 27 report. 

But for Pagcor-owned casinos, the electronic gaming machines (EGMs) or slot machines segment makes up the bulk of their gross gaming revenue.

Latest data of Pagcor showed that nearly 6 out of every 10 EGMs nationwide are owned by the gaming regulator. Pagcor operates 565 gaming tables and 10,271 EGMs at Casino Filipino venues, as of end-September of 2016.

In the first 9 months of 2016, Pagcor-operated casinos recorded gross gaming revenue of P23.88 billion, much lower than licensed casinos' P79.89 billion.

4. All Philippine casinos in private hands soon?

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III had said that the government would sell Pagcor-run casinos to private bidders by 2017, as these can no longer compete with licensed casinos.

As of the 3rd quarter of 2016, Pagcor operates 11 casinos nationwide, two of which are in Metro Manila.

Under Pagcor’s charter and relevant national laws, 5% of Pagcor’s winnings goes to the Bureau of Internal Revenue as franchise tax; while half of the remaining 95% balance goes to the national treasury.

Other beneficiaries of Pagcor's revenue include the Philippine Sports Commission, Board of Claims, cities that host Pagcor casinos, as well as the social fund for projects of the Office of the President. 

Annual financial statements from Pagcor illustrate an increase in income from gaming revenues over the year, with record earnings seen in 2015 at P43,385 billion.

Despite the Resorts World Manila attack, Pagcor Chairperson Andrea Domingo said her office still expects to hit its 2017 total revenues target. 

Domingo also said the local gaming industry’s total revenues in 2017 may still expand to P160 billion, as casinos in the Philippines have yet to feel any impact of the recent deadly attack. This, however, remains to be seen. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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