Manila's City of Dreams casino a bet on China, says James Packer

Luxury Nobu hotel added to attractions as Philippines aims to take on Singapore

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 12:27am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 4:20pm

Luxury boutique hotel chain Nobu is setting up its first Asia hotel in the US$1.3 billion City of Dreams Manila gambling resort as the project goes all out to reel in wealthy punters from China.

"This is a bet on the Philippines and it is a bet on China," James Packer, director of Melco Crown, co-developer with Belle Corp of the resort, said at a star-studded launch ceremony yesterday. "We really need it to work for the people of Manila and to also be an attraction that is good enough to get the Chinese market to come here and have fun."

The ceremony was attended by celebrity chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa and his partner in the hotel group, Hollywood film star Robert De Niro.

The Nobu hotel will be one of three in the complex, which aims to open by mid-year and will also feature the largest nightclub in the city and a theme park.

Melco Crown chief executive Lawrence Ho Yau-lung, son of Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun, predicts gambling revenue in the Philippines "could easily" double in two years to US$4 billion. That would make it the biggest gaming hub in Southeast Asia ahead of Singapore.

But the huge investment comes at a time when friction between Manila and Beijing is at an all-time high. The country's relations with Hong Kong are also at a low point due to unresolved issues over the Manila bus hostage tragedy three years ago.

Asked yesterday how these tensions would affect the casino's drive to attract Chinese high rollers, Ho was upbeat.

"I think the beauty of it is that we're in an industry of entertainment and of fun," he said. The political tensions were "really not on our level to resolve".

"The proposition that we have here, especially with the Nobu brand, it is going to be so compelling that people from all over the world, whether from China, Hong Kong or Asia, will come," he said.

Manila is seeking to position itself as an alternative gaming destination to Macau and other established centres and is building four casino resorts in the seafront Manila Bay area.

The Nobu hotel in Manila will be the group's biggest so far. It will feature 321 rooms, almost twice as many as at its award-winning Las Vegas property, as well as Michelin-starred chef Nobu's signature fusion cuisine.