Business is booming at Melco Crown’s City of Dreams Manila, thanks to a renewed influx of Chinese tourism.

 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte meets Chinese President Xi Jinping

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte meets Chinese President Xi Jinping on a diplomatic visit to China in October 2016, as the two countries sought to ease tensions over disputed territories in the South China Sea. (Image: China.org.cn)

In fact, as Bloomberg pointed out late last week, its operator, Melco Crown Philippines, has been the best-performing casino stock on the market this year, worldwide. Shares in the company have risen 125 percent in 2017, not bad for a property that has only just started turning a profit.

Australian Casino mogul James Packer, who last week completed the sale of his remaining stake in Melco Crown, the joint venture he formed with Lawrence Ho in 2004, may now be regretting his decision to cut his investment exposure to Macau and the Philippines.

The resort’s gross gaming revenue increased 20 percent in the three quarters of 2016, in comparison with the corresponding period of the previous year, according to the latest available data from the Philippine operator-regulator PAGCOR.

Duterte’s China Romance

At the heart of the resurgence of Chinese visitors is the Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s determination to form closer ties with China, while, at the same time, a corruption crackdown initiated in Beijing has dented visitation to Macau.

The two countries had previously been at loggerheads over disputed territories in the South China Sea.

While Duterte’s brutal war on drugs has made headlines around the world, and his anti-American rhetoric has raised eyebrows in Washington, the controversial president’s cozying up to China, the region’s economic heavyweight, appears to be paying off.

Chinese tourism was up 25 percent in the first two months of 2017 and Chinese visitors now account for roughly 14 percent of all visits to the country.     

That percentage is likely to grow, too, with the relaxing of visa requirements between the two countries in a deal agreed to last year.

Phone Betting Boon

The Philippines is also benefiting from the ban on phone betting in Macau and Singapore. This means that players are able to place bets at City of Dreams Manila on their smartphones and then watch the outcome of the game on a live video stream.

Kazuo Okada, Chairman of Universal Entertainment Corp, said recently he believes the Philippine casino sector is poised to overtake Singapore’s.   

“Foreign players have multiplied and they’re mostly Chinese,” said “Fernando,” a Filipino gambler who spoke to Bloomberg last week. “There are times that you need to wait to get a seat at the tables and when there’s a thick crowd it’s not rare that you’re playing with a Chinese tourist.”