Philippines Lifts Moratorium on New Casinos, As Country Desperate for Cash

Posted on: August 27, 2021, 10:27h. 

Last updated on: August 27, 2021, 12:00h.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte announced yesterday that the country is open to new casino developments.

Philippines casinos PAGCOR Rodrigo Duterte
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte chats with the media during a COVID-19 update on Tuesday, August 24, 2021. The Filipino leader says, effective immediately, casino projects outside of Manila can be suggested to the national government. (Image: Philippines Presidential Photographers Division)

The controversial Filipino leader installed a moratorium on new casinos in January of 2018. The presidential order blocked a $500 million integrated resort proposed by Galaxy Entertainment for Boracay Island.

More than three years later, and as COVID-19 continues to rage across the Philippines, Duterte says it’s time to encourage investments that will spur the nation’s economy in the coming years.

If you say, ‘Duterte, I thought you hated gambling. Now you want a gambling house in Boracay? You’re encouraging the tourists.’ Forgive me for the contradiction,” Duterte explained during a press conference.

“We don’t have money now. Where we can get money, I will get it. If it will be from gambling, so be it,” the president added.

Manila Off-Limits

Andrea Domingo, the chairperson of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), which operates its own casinos while simultaneously regulating commercial ones, spoke today on gaming liberalization. The chief gaming boss said that while Duterte is lifting the ban on new casinos, no new properties will be authorized in Manila’s Entertainment City.

Domingo explained that casino applications will only be fielded for projects targeting locations outside of the Manila capital. Manila is the hub of the Philippines’ gaming industry. Four multibillion-dollar integrated resorts operate there — Resorts World, City of Dreams, Okada, and Solaire.

Aside from the Philippines’ Bureau of Internal Revenue, casino taxes deliver the country the most government revenue. But COVID-19 has drastically cut those funds. PAGCOR shares half of its casino earnings with the government. It also collects gross gaming revenue (GGR) taxes from commercial casinos and remits the money to Duterte’s administration.

PAGCOR net income plummeted nearly 84 percent in 2020 to PHP1.57 billion (US$315.1 million).

Boracay Casino

The white sandy beaches of Boracay haven’t always been that way. The Philippines’ idyllic vacation spot was allowed to deteriorate over recent decades, resulting in the island being overrun with sewage and trash.

Duterte ordered a six-month closure of Boracay in 2018. A massive, island-wide cleanup and restoration were completed, with only residents and workers permitted access to the resort island that measures roughly four square miles.

Galaxy Entertainment did not immediately respond to whether it would reconsider its half of a billion-dollar casino resort project on Boracay in wake of the Duterte news. But not everyone is in favor of bringing such a large casino destination to the picturesque retreat.

I am totally against bringing gambling activities to Boracay. That is not the type of tourist that we want in Boracay,” Sen. Nancy Binay, who chairs the Senate Committee on Tourism, told ABS-CBN News. “There are other means to collect more revenues.

“We all know that Boracay is the crown jewel of our tourism industry,” Binay continued. “The efforts for the island to be brought back will be put to waste if we will allow gambling activities in the island.”