Safe bet or big gamble?

SOON AFTER she took power in January 2001, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gave her imprimatur for the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation’s (Pagcor) showcase project that she had wanted to christen “Bagong Nayong Pilipino Integrated Tourism City.”

A little more than six years later, Pagcor unveiled its plan for what is now called the “Tourism City” project along Manila Bay.

The project, Pagcor said, would bring in millions of dollars of revenues for the government, give a million Filipinos jobs, and pack in 10 million tourists in the first five years of its run.

Pagcor also said that it would be the Philippines’s answer to Macau’s gaming paradise and Singapore’s Sentosa. Through Tourism City, Pagcor hopes to turn the Philippines into Asia’s premier gaming-and-tourism hub.

The project, however, is up against formidable competition across the world, with the players multiplying every year.

The “Asian Casino Executives Summit” scheduled in Singapore on September 9-10 has organized panels along themes that mostly exclude Manila as a serious contender.

For instance, under the “Asian Gaming Model Analysis” session, a panel has been organized on the theme of “Singapore vs Macau: Examining the Gaming Business Models and Strategies of the Two Territories.”

A second session on “Assessing the Growth Opportunities in Asian Gaming Sector” features resource persons from Japan (“A Yen for Gaming – Japan Heading Down the Casino Development Path”), another on Vietnam (“Vietnam: The Next Gaming Investment Frontier?”), and a panel discussion on “India, Cambodia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia – Where are Asia’s Next Gaming Hotspots After Macau?”

Pagcor President Rafael ‘Butch’ Francisco, however, scheduled to speak at a 30-minute, pre-lunch session, on Day 2 of the summit, on the topic “Casino Real Estate Investment Opportunities: Pagcor City – A Mega Real Estate Investment Project in the Philippines.”

Francisco told PCIJ recently that Tourism City is based on the business model of Las Vegas, which has been dubbed as “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” or even derisively, “Sin City.”

The U.S. city of Las Vegas in Nevada boasts of The Strip, a 6.4-kilometer section of Las Vegas Boulevard South that hosts most of the world’s largest casinos, hotels, and resorts. The Strip contains 18 of the 25 largest hotels in the world, with a combined capacity of over 67,000 rooms.

“The idea is not just to build a casino, the 65 percent (component) is to bring in tourists,” Francisco explained. “You know in Las Vegas, the streets are full of people, tourists, unlike in Macau that has no people on the streets, all gamers.”

Manila’s Tourism City, Francisco said, will be a mixed 65-35 percent non-gaming and gaming operations. It will feature casinos, resort complexes, theme parks, theaters, and even a retirement village.

Its master plan was launched in April 2008 during the Asia’s Gem Gaming and Entertaining Leisure Expo, a forum of casino and tourism magnates all over the world.

It’s not clear, though, if Tourism City’s proponents are aware that since 2006, Macau has outstripped The Strip as the world’s most profitable gaming market. Macau raked in $6.485 billion from slots and table games that year, ahead of Las Vegas’s $6.079 billion.

But in his interview with the PCIJ, Francisco did clarify President Arroyo’s role in the project. He said, “It’s been a long time since 2001 (when) she had told us to proceed with the project. That’s her only role, the parameters she left to us, the Pagcor board.”

However, when Tourism City begins to unfold, Francisco, laughing, said: “By that time in 2010 (when project rolls out), iba nang presidente ang makikinabang d’yan (another president will benefit from it)!”

Pagcor’s 13: Where to Gamble

METRO MANILA 4 casinos: The Heritage Hotel in Pasay City; Provident Resources International Complex in Parañaque City; Hyatt Hotel and Casino and the Manila Pavilion Hotel in Manila
CEBU 2 casinos: Waterfront Airport Hotel & Casino, fronting Mactan International Airport and Waterfront Cebu City Hotel & Casino in Lahug
ANGELES CITY, PAMPANGA 2 casinos: Along McArthur Highway in Balibago and inside the Mimosa Leisure Estate in Clark Field
A CASINO EACH • Fort Ilocandia Resort Hotel in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte

• SM Tourism Estate across Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay City

• Subic Bay Freeport in Olongapo City

• Grand Regal Hotel in Davao City

• Pagcor Hotel in Bacolod City