Rodrigo Duterte Favorite To Break Ground on Philippines’ First Casino Outside Manila

Posted on: July 13, 2017, 06:00h. 

Last updated on: July 13, 2017, 03:28h.

Plans to build the first Philippine casino resort outside Manila appear to be coming to fruition for businessman Dennis Uy’s Udenna Development Corp.

Dennis Uy’s Udenna to begin work on Lapu-Lapu Leisure Mactan.
Under President Rodrigo Duterte, Dennis Uy has graduated from “the fringes of the business elite” to one of the “country’s most energetic dealmakers,” according to Bloomberg. (Image: Philstar)

Udenna wants to build to a 12-hectare beachfront resort on the holiday island of Mactan, in the province of Cebu, complete with luxury hotels, infinity pools and a skydiving center.

Uy, the company’s dynamic chairman and a close personal friend of controversial Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, said this week that funding requirements were close to being secured and he hoped to break ground on the project in the coming weeks.

Udenna recently sold a 25 percent stake in listed oil company Phoenix Petroleum Philippines, raising around $80 million to help finance the development of the project, currently known as Lapu-Lapu Leisure Mactan.

Whiff of Corruption?

In May, the company received a provisional gambling license from Philippine operator-regulator Pagcor, causing eyebrows to be raised. Uy was Duterte’s top campaign donor when he was seeking election last year.

Some suggested the ease with which the license had been secured smacked of cronyism. Duterte was elected on a populist platform that promised to be tough on corruption and crime.

But Uy has denied he has received any special favors from Duterte, noting that he applied for the license before his friend assumed power and his company was awarded it on merit. Pagcor also rejected claims of favoritism, explaining Udenna was “more aggressive” during the tender process.

Energetic Dealmaker

Nevertheless, as Bloomberg noted in May, Duterte’s ascent to power has motivated “a little-known businessman from the president’s province,” who was “once on the fringes of the business elite” to become “one of the country’s most energetic dealmakers.”

“It’s actually more difficult when you know the president because there’s pressure to lead by example, to do good,” Uy told Bloomberg. On being asked about his meteoric rise under Duterte, he replied that “life is determined by destiny.”

Casino resorts, meanwhile, are determined by corporate finance and Uy told Business World this week that this aspect of the project would soon be signed and sealed. He announced that China Bank is “very supportive” that a deal would be finalized imminently.

Uy started out selling copra (the dried meat of a coconut that’s used to extract coconut oil), before graduating to, and making his name in, petroleum oil, and then shipping, but he has no experience building and operating a casino.

He said this week he was open to partnering with international operators on this front,  but hopes that he can find the expertise he needs closer to home.

The $300 million resort is targeted for opening in 2022.