Billionaire port magnate Enrique Razon wants to take a gamble on expansion

Filipino billionaire Enrique Razon comes from a family that built a port company throughout Southeast Asia, eventually becoming one of the largest such corporations in the region. Now, Razon is seeking to do exactly the same with his casino ventures.

Razon is the owner of Bloomberry Resorts, a company that operates a $1.2 billion casino resort known as Solaire in Manila. Solaire was given one of four licenses for casino projects in Manila as part of an effort to give the Philippines a gambling hub that could compete with Macau and Singapore.

Looking at Macau and Latin America

But Razon is looking to expand his casino business similarly to how he took his family’s small ports operation and turned it into a worldwide operation. He has already expressed an interest in moving into markets including Latin America and the biggest market of them all: Macau. While the latter probably can’t happen immediately, Razon hopes that when current licenses start to expire in Macau in 2020, the government there will open the market to new entrants.

“We just have to build the brand,” Razon said.

This isn’t the first time the Razon family has been part of the casino industry. Many years, ago, Enrique’s father was part of a venture with Macau casino magnate Stanley Ho that operated a floating casino in Manila. But he left that venture, allowing the family to focus exclusively on the ports business.

While Razon’s Solaire may well be a success, there’s still a lot of skepticism over whether he’ll be able to translate that into an international casino brand.

Expansion Competition

“He will have a harder time expanding his casino ventures overseas,” said strategist Alex Pomento. “Mr. Razon’s expertise is with ports, a business that has no correlation with gaming.”

Not surprisingly, Razon disagrees. He points out that Solaire has already attracted a large number of VIP and high-stakes gamblers, enough that 30 so-called junket operators have decided to work with the casino. Those companies provide credit and arrange trips for Chinese and Asian gamblers who wish to make visits to overseas casinos.

Razon also believes that his ports business can actually give him a leg up in certain markets – particularly in Latin America.

“We have the advantage there because we are the biggest port operator there. We know the landscape,” he said.

Of course, Razon will face plenty of competition as he attempts to push his fledgling casino brand. In Macau, he’ll face resistance from established brands, both domestic and foreign, including Sands and Wynn. Even in the Philippines, several other operators will be competing for influence, including tycoon Henry Sy, who has partnered with Melco Crown to open a $1.3 billion casino complex in 2014. How successful Razon is at moving to the top of the local market could determine whether international expansion is in the cards.

The Razon family is best known for their ownership of International Container Terminal Services, a company that Enrique and his father began in 1987. Today, the company (known as ICTSI) is the Philippines’ largest ports operator and also operates in India, Argentina and Colombia.