Manila casinos reel from attack

An arson attack by a gunman on a Manila casino has cast doubt over a fledgling gambling centre that enjoys state backing but has stiff regional competition. 

The 38 deaths and 74 injuries in a fire lit by a suspected gambling addict at Resorts World Manila (pictured) have hampered efforts to attract Chinese visitors and from other countries that ban gambling. The sector attracts US$3 billion annually, barely a month’s takings in Macau, the world leader.

“The Philippines is gaining ground as a travel destination in Asia,” Hans Van Der Sande of the Tiger Resort casino developer told Resorts World before the attack. “Every time a new large [casino] has entered the market, the demand has grown to keep up with the supply.”

The Filipino gunman, who had heavy debts, set fire to gambling tables, stole more than US$2 million of casino chips and then killed himself, the authorities said.

NC Lanting Security Specialist Agency, the security provider to Resorts World Manila, was sacked after the police highlighted  several lapses in wake of the June 2 attack.

Resorts World is part of Entertainment City, a vast casino development by Manila Bay. The government and private developers have invested in an elevated road to the airport so visitors can avoid congestion.

The casinos are part of much larger hotel, leisure and retail developments. The Solaire Resort and Casino is controlled by Enrique Razon, one of the Philippines’ wealthiest business leaders. There is a vast shopping plaza run by Ayala Corp, owned by one of the archipelago’s wealthiest families.

Geoff Andres, property president at the City of Dreams Manila, said Entertainment City could grow in tandem with GDP, which expanded by 6.8 per cent last year. The Philippine casino regulator said the sector posted revenues of almost 100 billion pesos (US$2.02 billion) in the first three quarters of 2016, up 20 per cent on the same period in 2015.

Andres said: “We foresee further government investment in infrastructure development in the urban areas to ease the traffic flow and linkages to key tourist destinations; and a strong programme to support inbound tourists from both domestic and international markets.”

China’s recent anti-corruption drive has scared some of its citizens away from Macau, although the former Portuguese enclave has reported a recovery this year.

Macau’s gross gambling revenue reached a peak of US$45 billion before falling to US$28 billion in 2016.

Resorts World Manila. Picture credit: Wikimedia