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Philippines President Squashes $1.5B Casino Project Just Minutes After Developer Breaks Ground

Bucket Of Cold Water Thrown Onto Hot Gambling Market

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Entertainment City in 2014/WikipediaIn a surprise move, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte through a spokesperson announced Tuesday that he will be canceling a $1.5 billion casino-resort project, a decision that came just minutes after ground was broken. The casino had also already received a license from the government.

Per Reuters, Duterte nixed the Landing International Development Ltd. project planned for the tourist hot spot Entertainment City, located outside of Manila. The government reportedly believes that a lease agreement it signed is no longer in the best interests of state coffers. In other words, the rent isn’t lucrative enough.

“Sorry to burst your bubble, people, but the president said that is grossly disadvantageous to the government,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told local media.

According to channelnewsasia.com, Duterte said separately to media that he “hates gambling.”

“There will be no casinos outside of what are existing. I am not granting anything,” he added.

The project would have been the fifth of its kind for what was considered an emerging gambling hub, which saw its first casino open its doors in 2013.

Earlier this year, President Duterte shot down a plan for a $500 million casino from Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment for the island of Boracay. That was despite government regulators already signing off. In that decision, the government said that the casino-resort would have a detrimental impact on the environment.

According to Reuters, Duterte went against decisions made by officials under the control of the Office of the President. The country’s top official reportedly believes that the gambling market risks over-saturation. There are roughly 1,500 gambling tables and nearly 10,000 slot machines in the country, which generated $3.2 billion in gambling revenue last year for the casino firms.

The decision to halt new development comes despite the gambling market growing 11.6 percent last year compared to 2016. It’s one of the world’s hottest gambling markets.

The Hong Kong-based Landing said that it will fight the government over the casino, which was expected to be equipped with more than 150 gaming tables and about 240 slot machines.

“Unless the lease contract is canceled or nullified on solid legal grounds by the courts, Landing has reason to believe that it is a valid leaseholder and can legally proceed with its project,” it said in a statement.

Duterte, who took office in the summer of 2016, had a similar flip-flop when it came to online casinos. In late 2016, he decided he wanted the entire online gambling industry shut down, comments that came just a handful of months after he said he was open to regulating internet betting.