MANILA, Oct 22 (Reuters) - U.S. gaming firm Caesars Entertainment Corp has to put in at least $1.5 billion as minimum investment if it proceeds to invest in the Philippines, an up-and-coming gaming destination that has lured some of the world’s biggest casino operators.
Last month, Philippine President Benigno Aquino met with top Caesars officials, with the casino operator following up the San Francisco meeting with a written expression of interest to invest in the country, Cristino Naguiat, chairman of the state gaming firm Pagcor, told reporters on Wednesday.
The government now requires new casino investors to put in a minimum of $1.5 billion, half a billion dollars more than the initial investment paid by the four casino licensees in the 100-hectare (247 acres) gaming and leisure complex known as Entertainment City in the capital Manila.
“If we bring in something new, it has to add value to the development of Entertainment City,” Naguiat said. “They will be facing new terms of reference - the new investors.”
Naguiat added that other American gaming companies, which he did not name, were also interested to invest in the country.
New casino firms would also have to look for parcels of land on their own as the government does not have any more available land to offer, he said.
Bloomberry Resorts Corp opened the first phase of its $1.2 billion casino-resort last year at Entertainment City. That will be followed by the over $1-billion joint venture of local firm Belle Corp and Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd called City of Dreams Manila in December this year.
Alliance Global Group Inc and Genting Hong Kong Ltd , partners in casino-hotel firm Travellers International Hotel Group Inc, expect to complete their casino-resort project by 2017.
The fourth investor in Entertainment City, the local affiliate of Japan’s Universal Entertainment Corp, said last month that it expects to open its $2 billion casino resort project in 2016, a year later than planned.
Pagcor’s Naguiat reiterated that the government will penalise Universal and forfeit the company’s 100 million pesos ($2.23 million) performance bond if it does not finish construction of the project in March next year as indicated in its project implementation plan.
Aquino said his cabinet was still debating allowing a fifth private casino operator.
“There are some sectors that are saying they will not add to the gaming revenues of government. There are those who are saying Caesars is a brand name that tells the world that essentially we have arrived,” Aquino told an annual forum of foreign journalists.
“I am still awaiting the consensus coming from the cabinet,” he said.
Caesars said the Philippines represents a compelling market opportunity for the group.
“It’s still early in the discussions, but it would be a great complement to our upcoming integrated resort in Korea, the start of a network of Caesars-branded IRs in Asia,” Steven Tight, president of international development at Caesars, told Reuters. (1 US dollar = 44.745 Philippine peso) (Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Additional reporting by Farah Master in HONG KONG; Editing by Ryan Woo)