The Philippines today opens the first casino in a hub designed to emulate the success of Macau.
Port tycoon Enrique Razon's US$1.2 billion Solaire Manila casino will have a monopoly within Manila's new entertainment and gambling complex until the country's richest man, Henry Sy, opens a venture there next year.
The billionaires are investing in casinos as the Philippines seeks to copy Macau, where gamblers from mainland China fuelled a 14 per cent revenue surge to a record US$38 billion last year. New resorts could help the Philippines' gaming market expand five-fold to US$10 billion by 2017, its chief regulator estimates.
The gaming area in Solaire is decorated with mother-of-pearl-covered columns and a floor embedded with coloured glass.
It is designed to get 45 per cent of its revenue from VIPs, or high-stakes punters, according to Razon's partner Bradley Stone, president at Global Gaming Asset Management.
Razon holds one of four casino licences the Philippines awarded in 2008 and 2009 for the entertainment hub that is close to Manila Bay.
Sy and Melco Crown Entertainment are scheduled to jointly open a casino resort there in July next year.
A venture of Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada and a fourth casino in the Manila complex by Philippine billionaire Andrew Tan and Genting Hong Kong are expected to open between 2015 and 2016.
Razon has so far spent US$750 million to build Solaire's first phase that opens today and he's spending another US$400 million for an expansion that will be completed by the third quarter of next year, Stone said. Manila, only three to four hours away from China, Japan and South Korea, will be an attractive alternative for high rollers in these markets, he added.
The Philippines is counting on the new casino ventures to boost tourist traffic that lags behind that of Indonesia and Thailand. It's also betting that these investments, set by the government at US$1 billion for each licence holder, will help cut the jobless rate, which is among the highest in Asia.
Solaire's first phase includes an 18,500 square metre gaming area with 300 tables and 1,200 slot machines, seven restaurants and a five-star hotel. The expansion, already under construction, includes more VIP gaming space, a 1,800-seat theatre for Broadway shows and 60,000 square metres of retail space.
It will also feature 300 suite rooms and more restaurants.
"This will really be the first time that the Philippines is going after the premium player and Mr Razon understands this," Stone said. "Manila has the opportunity to be competitive and to get its share of that business."