Philippines approves $500-mln mega-casino project, first outside the capital

MANILA, March 21 (Reuters) - The Philippine gaming regulator has approved a $500-million project for an integrated casino resort in the central island of Cebu, the first mega-casino outside the capital of Manila, the gaming chief said on Tuesday.

The Southeast Asian nation, whose gaming sector grew in popularity and revenues as China’s crackdown on corruption scared wealthy Chinese players away from Macau, aims to spread gaming projects to the provinces, while the three existing integrated casino resorts ramp up operations in the capital.

“Cebu is the second largest metropolis in our country,” Andrea Domingo, chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor), told a briefing. “There are cities there near the airport where the local governments welcome casinos.”

A Filipino-owned company will put up a $500-million casino complex in Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu, while a Hong Kong-based firm is applying for a license to invest $300 million in a casino venture on the adjacent island of Mandaue, Domingo said.

In 2015, Sino-American Gaming Investment Group, controlled by Denver-based consultant RiskWise Group, and Macau Resources Group told Reuters they had proposed large scale resorts - one on the tourist haven of Cebu and the other on the island of Napayawan, near a proposed airport.

The gaming regulator will refrain from issuing new gaming licenses in the capital, Manila, in the next five years, following requests by integrated casino resort operators.

“We listened to the people who were here, who took a risk when there was no one else here,” Domingo said.

The Philippine affiliate of Japan’s Universal Entertainment Corp opened its $2.4-billion casino project in December, becoming the third player in the Entertainment City, the Philippines’ answer to gaming hubs in Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore.

The Philippines, which has one of Asia’s most freewheeling gaming industries, targets gross gaming revenue of 155 billion to 160 billion pesos ($3.1 billion to $3.2 billion) this year, up 4 percent to 7 percent from last year, Pagcor data showed.

Growth will be driven by friendlier ties with neighbouring countries and confidence in the Philippine investment climate, Domingo said.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last year set aside territorial hostility and partnered with China, pivoting away from traditional ally the United States. ($1=50.0970 Philippine pesos) (Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)