Philippines threatens to suspend Japan tycoon's casino licence

Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada (centre) addressing the Mississippi Gaming Commission in Biloxi, Mississippi on March 19, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada (centre) addressing the Mississippi Gaming Commission in Biloxi, Mississippi on March 19, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines' gambling regulator said on Tuesday it would suspend Japanese tycoon Kazuo Okada's licence to operate a US$1-billion (S$1.3 billion) Manila casino if he fails to explain construction delays.

Regulators confiscated a 100-million-peso (S$3 million) assurance bond from Tiger Resorts Leisure and Entertainment and gave the company until mid-July to justify an extension to its timetable, said Francis Hernando, vice president of the state-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation.

The decision means that even if Tiger finishes construction, it will be unable to reclaim the 100 million pesos.

Tiger, an affiliate of Tokyo-based Universal Entertainment, had missed two deadlines to complete its casino resort - first in December 2013 and then in March this year, Hernando told AFP.

"They requested for more time to finish the project. We gave them 90 days to explain why the licence should not be suspended because of the delays," he said.

Tiger said it wanted to delay the opening of its casino to the first quarter of 2017, according to Hernando, with the company now hoping to build a bigger resort complex than originally planned.

Should Tiger be granted another extension, it would have to lodge a new 100-million-peso bond, he added.

Universal's Tokyo office declined to comment on the Philippine regulator's statement.

The Tiger project is one of four US$1-billion casinos planned on a glittering strip fronting Manila Bay as the Southeast Asian nation seeks to rival Las Vegas and Macau as a gaming destination.

"The overall vision is to make the Philippines a recognised entertainment destination in the region. Ideally, we should have a complete product. One less resort obviously dilutes that vision," Hernando said.

Gaming revenue in the Philippines reached US$2.5 billion last year, according to regulators.

The nation is targeting revenue of US$7 billion, roughly the levels of Singapore and Las Vegas, by 2020, according to Cristino Naguiat, who chairs the country's gambling regulator.

Two of the four mega-casinos have started operations.

One is owned by Filipino billionaire and port magnate Enrique Razon and another is operated by a joint venture between Australian billionaire James Packer and Lawrence Ho, son of Macau gambling mogul Stanley Ho.

Razon's Bloomberry Resorts said it posted a profit of 4.072 billion pesos in its first full year of operations last year, a turnaround from a loss of 1.315 billion pesos in the previous year.