Philippines Regulator PAGCOR Pleads with Duterte to Ease Casino Licensing Ban

PAGCOR, the Philippines gaming regulator, is trying to convince the nation’s controversial president to ease up on a one-year-old ban preventing any new casino licenses from being granted.

President Rodrigo Duterte has not been known to back down from a fight, and PAGCOR's leaders may find continued resistance to a current casino licensing ban that they hope to get him to rethink. (Image: PCOO EDP/Wikimedia Commons)

But so far at least, Rodrigo Duterte has shown no penchant for relaxing his existing stance.

Coming Face-to-Face

Andrea Domingo, chairman and CEO of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), said she would ask Duterte — perhaps as early as this week — for a less restrictive ban on additional licenses.

She is expected to make her case during an in-person meeting with Duterte. The ban hurts casino investment in the Philippines, and some areas of the nation are ripe for additional funding, Domingo said.

Elsewhere in Asia — most notably in Japan and Vietnam — the threat of more gaming competition looms. Japan could see its first integrated resorts up and running by 2024, while Vietnam’s Phu Quoc Corona Casino opened earlier this month.

Last July, Duterte blocked Landing International Development Ltd’s $1.5 billion casino in Manila. It was supposed to be built in Entertainment City, home to the largest integrated casino resorts in the Philippines.

Major Investments

So far, billions of dollars have been invested in constructing luxury properties in the Philippines, including Solaire, City of Dreams, and Okada Manila. Duterte also prevented Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment Group’s proposal to construct a $500 million casino resort on Boracay island.

The voice of the people is the voice of god. If it is the wish of the population here that they do not want a casino, then there will be no casino,” the president said in November when explaining his opposition.

Duterte hasn't been known to consult his populace on much, let alone their pro or con views on gaming venues, however.

Even with the ban, casinos remain revenue generators in the Philippines. Gross gaming revenue this year is predicted to total $4.1 billion, an 8.5 percent jump from 2018.

“All the integrated casino resorts are doing very well,” Domingo has said.

PAGCOR is both a casino regulator and operator, and owns and manages eight main casinos under its Casino Filipino brand. The agency additionally operates 34 smaller satellite gaming facilities. It was supposed to auction off up to 47 casinos owned and operated by the government.

But upon further review, officials changed their minds, deciding it made more financial sense for the country not to sell them.

Originally, Duterte wanted PAGCOR to drop being a casino operator — and just be a regulator — to minimize the risk of corruption.

Gaming Industry in Confusion

The gaming industry has been in a state of total confusion since Duterte took office in June of 2016.

He initially sought to rid the country of online gambling and illegal underground bookies. PhilWeb’s nearly 300 eGaming cafes were forced to close, but then the president backtracked. He said he would restore online gambling if taxes are collected.

Duterte then directed PAGCOR to make the Philippines “the top gaming and entertainment destination” in Southeast Asia by 2020. Foreign casino operators jumped at the opportunities, until they were impacted by the ban.

The casino sector would also get a boost if the Philippines upgrades its airports. Last year, Japanese financial services firm Nomura Holdings said in a note that the aging airports are keeping wealthier tourists from patronizing casino resorts, especially affluent travelers from China.

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