Philippines says it can overtake Singapore next year as Asia’s No. 2 casino hub

MANILA (Bloomberg): The Philippines can overtake Singapore as soon as next year as Asia’s second-largest gambling destination after Macau, the head of Manila’s gaming agency said, with new integrated resorts seen boosting visitors and offsetting a decline in Chinese tourist arrivals.

A new integrated resort by billionaire Enrique Razon’s Bloombery Resorts Corp. will open in Manila later this year, while up to eight more casino projects are being planned, Alejandro Tengco, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of state regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., or Pagcor, said in an interview at his office on Tuesday. The regulator also plans to sell state-run casinos by no later than early 2026, he said.

"If Singapore doesn’t expand, they will plateau. Don’t be surprised if next year we will surpass them,” Tengco said. The Philippines expects gross gaming revenue to reach a new high of 336 billion pesos ($6.1 billion) this year, up from last year’s record 285 billion pesos.

Singapore’s Gambling Regulatory Authority said it has no comment when Bloomberg News asked regarding Tengco’s remarks and referred to the financial statements of Genting Singapore Ltd and Las Vegas Sands Corp for the revenues of the two integrated resorts in the city-state.

Tengco estimates Singapore’s annual gross gaming revenue to be around $6 billion.

Manila is counting on its integrated resorts and casinos to help boost tourist arrivals hit hard during the Covid pandemic. This year, the country is targeting 7.7 million foreign tourists after drawing in 5.45 million in 2023, still below the pre-pandemic level of 8.26 million in 2019.

The nation’s future casinos, which can cost up to $1.2 billion, will be in the capital Manila and at the former US airbase Clark, as well as in tourist magnets like Cebu and Boracay, he said. "As you open new markets, new customers will come,” he said.

Slower Chinese tourist arrivals will not hinder the industry’s growth, Tengco said, with Philippine casinos mostly drawing in locals and those from South Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

Chinese tourist arrivals to the Philippines dropped last year to just 15% of 2019 levels, according to government data. The decline comes at a time when tensions between the Philippines and China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea have escalated in recent months.

With the Philippines’ gaming revenue rising, new integrated resorts will "hopefully neutralize the decline in Chinese tourist arrivals,” said Tengco, adding that Chinese high rollers are still playing in the country.

Online gaming

The Philippines is also building out its online casino industry, which contributed to a fifth of the country’s gross gaming revenue last year and is expected to grow faster than brick-and-mortar casinos.

"Our advantage over Macau is they don’t have online gaming,” Tengco said. Pagcor plans to launch its own online gaming website later this year, and is seeking a joint venture partner to operate it, he said.

That is part of Pagcor’s efforts to boost the revenue stream of the agency’s Casino Filipino brand - a collection of 41 mostly small casino outlets - ahead of a planned sale of its casino assets so the agency can solely focus on being a regulator. "We want to decouple because Pagcor has been wearing two hats for too long,” he said, adding the company’s remit is rare in the gambling world.

The law that created the agency as gaming regulator and casino operator is set to expire in 2033. An amendment to the regulation is needed for Pagcor to privatize its casino assets and extend the agency’s corporate life by another 25 years.

Pagcor aims to offer its casinos in bundles - grouped according to location - by late next year or early 2026, and expects to raise 60 billion to 80 billion pesos from the sale, he said. Its planned gaming website will also be sold, he added.

"If we’re successful in the privatization efforts, investors will have more confidence to invest,” Tengco said.

-- ©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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