Philippines city of Boracay flagged for new casino

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Boracay casino restart meets stern opposition

A new casino plan has been approved by the Philippine government in a tourist hotspot, to help fund the country’s pandemic measures.

Bloomberg reports that the casino on the tourist island of Boracay will boost funds to offset what was spent combating COVID-19.

President Rodrigo Duterte has given his go-ahead, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement, without naming the casino and giving details as to the timing.

Health protocols and safeguards to keep children away from gambling will be required, he said.

In early August, the government cut its economic growth forecast for this year to four per cent to five per cent from six per cent to seven per cent as the nation battles a surge of virus cases due to the delta strain.

Galaxy Entertainment Group’s plan to build a casino resort in Boracay was halted in 2018 after Duterte ordered a ban.

Casino operations in Boracay, the Philippines’ top tourist draw, should follow coronavirus restrictions and keep children away from gambling activities, Roque said.

He did not say if lifting the moratorium would be temporary or permanent.

Filipino president changes tack on casino rules

Strict and lengthy coronavirus lockdowns battered the Philippine economy and hit tax revenues during 2020.

No casinos currently operate in the 10-square-kilometre Boracay island, famed for its powdery white sands, turquoise waters and lively nightlife.

The move augurs well for provisional casino licence holds like the Philippines’ Alliance Global Group and the partnership of Leisure and Resorts World Corp and Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment Group.

In 2018, Duterte rejected Galaxy’s plan to build a $500 million integrated casino resort in Boracay.

Alliance Global will proceed with its casino project in Boracay where it has several hotels and a golf course, company chairman Andrew Tan said in a statement on Saturday.

“We are very hopeful that the tourism industry in this island will recover fast after the pandemic.”

“We already have several hotels there, and we are still building more. There is also a golf course, the only one in the entire Boracay Island.”

Galaxy can start its operations focusing on foreign gamblers, Alfredo Lim, president of the gaming regulator said.

Galaxy and Leisure and Resorts World did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Gambling in the Philippines is a thorny issue.

Philippines has chequered history with gambling

Philippine-based online casinos reliant on Chinese and other foreign workers have also been hit by the travel restrictions, while some have left due to fears of higher taxes.

In 2016, millions of dollars stolen from Bangladesh Bank’s account in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York were laundered in Philippine casinos, prompting tighter money laundering regulations that covered casinos.

The Philippines’ gaming regulator said it was now accepting applications for casino licences.

Regulator head Andrew Domingo said that no further casinos would be permitted in the Entertainment City zone in Metro Manila, other than projects already in development.

She added that Clark Freeport Zone, on the main island Luzon, had not been covered by the original ban on expansion of the sector.

The gaming regulator had in any case previously pushed for lifting the moratorium on casinos.

In late June, Philippine media reported that the terms of reference in an approved bill for a planned Boracay Island Development Authority envisaged the possibility of gaming amusement and recreational facilities operating on the holiday island.

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