A lot of changes to the gambling sector in the Philippines have been discussed lately. President Duterte has rejected plans to build a $550m (£419m) casino on the island of Boracay, while four major overseas casinos have declared their intentions to get involved in the Philippines market.
Gambling in the Philippines
Gambling laws in the Philippines are unusual in many ways. Most of the nation has tight restrictions on gambling, which is under the control of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR). Citizens can play at licensed casinos and at PAGCOR approved betting terminals and overseas websites.
PAGCOR cannot offer online betting but offshore online operators can, which is strange. Therefore, while PAGCOR has a monopoly on the land-based casino market, they cannot take advantage of the online market.
The other main region in terms of gambling laws is the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport. This is the sole region where PAGCOR does not have a monopoly. Independent casinos are allowed here, but they can only offer services to tourists. There is also a gambling licensing region for online platforms, which means that it is a popular area for operators from across Asia to get licenses for their gambling services.
The licenses are issued and monitored by PAGCOR. The application fee is $40,000 (£30,500) and there is a fee of $48,000 (£36,500) for the first year of business. The annual fee increases to $60,000 (£45,700) after that. The nation’s highly advanced internet infrastructure makes it an ideal base for gambling operations.
New casinos on the horizon
Four new casino operators plan to launch in the Freeport zone. The companies that sent letters of intent are based in South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. They plan to develop integrated resorts on the northern tip of the country.
A memorandum of understanding has already been signed with a major Chinese company that would invest $500m in an integrated casino and resort on Fuga Island.
The second most northern island in the Philippines, Fuga is under the Freeport authority. This development will include a casino, theme park, hotel, theatres, and villas on the 10,000-hectare island. It would be similar to the Jeju Island development in South Korea.
Three other gaming operators are setting up their own casino and hotel projects on a 55,000-hectare site. The investments will be in the region of $100m (£76m) per company.
It might not be all smooth sailing because PAGCOR has issued a memorandum that blocks the creation of new integrated casino resorts. However, the Freeport authority claims that, because it is independent and has the authority to issue licenses, it is well within its rights to license the proposed development.
Boracay casino tensions
Although the Leisure and Resorts World Corporation (LRWC) has extensive plans, its planned casino resort worth $550m (£419m) is not going ahead on Boracay Island. This came after a decision by President Duterte, despite the project seemingly being on track to open in 2021.
LRWC had partnered with Galaxy Entertainment Group, which is a massive player in the Macau casino scene. PAGCOR had already issued a provisional gambling license from the PAGCOR authority, but President Duterte ordered that the island needs take on a six-month environmental cleanup project.
There are indications that, once this cleanup is finished, casinos will not be allowed on the island. The project began and is set to last until the end of October. It appears that this is the end for this planned project by LRWC and Galaxy because they had only been issued a provisional license.
The resort casino was to be developed on a 23-hectare space and was planned to attract both non-gambling clientele and high-roller casino players from across the Asia-Pacific.