Philippine gaming regulator weighs sale of all 41 state-run casinos for $2b

The Philippine gaming industry has attracted foreign and domestic firms to set up sprawling casino-resorts. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: UNSPLASH

MANILA – The Philippine gaming regulator is considering selling all 41 casinos it operates to raise 80 billion Philippine pesos (S$2 billion) in government revenue and in order to focus on its regulatory functions.

The proposal by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) comes as the country’s freewheeling gaming sector recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, with the return of Chinese high rollers and the opening of new gambling hubs.

“We are seriously considering privatisation of all Pagcor-operated casinos,” Pagcor chairman Alejandro Tengco told the Asean Gaming Summit. “It is my hope we will be able to implement privatisation during my term.”

Mr Tengco’s term runs until 2028, in line with the presidency.

Pagcor, a regulator but also an operator of 41 casinos, first announced its intention to sell casinos in 2016 to beef up the government’s budget, a plan shelved in 2018.

In 2022, however, lawmakers and the finance minister pushed the new Pagcor administration to revive privatisation plans.

Selling the casinos, which are under long-term lease with hotels and commercial space landlords, in bundles would generate around 80 billion pesos for the government, Mr Tengco told reporters.

Gross gaming revenues (GGR), the amount players wager minus winnings, in the regulator’s casinos almost doubled to 15.9 billion pesos in 2022, government data showed.

Total GGR, led by multibillion dollar integrated casino-resorts, will likely hit the 256 billion pesos pre-pandemic level by 2024 versus 214 billion pesos in 2022, Mr Tengco said.

He said the return of Chinese gamblers and completion of new gaming properties will boost the gaming sector in 2023 and in 2024.

The Philippine gaming industry has attracted foreign and domestic firms to set up sprawling casino-resorts, creating tens of thousands of jobs in the past decade. Gambling and betting activities employed roughly 27,000 workers in 2020, according to government data.

The Philippine gambling scene, which includes a smaller version of the Las Vegas gaming strip, attracts high rollers from countries like China, Japan and South Korea. REUTERS

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