While developers are pouring billions into casino resorts in Macau, Manila, Singapore and Vietnam, regulatory uncertainty means bullish projections for the future growth of gaming in Asia are no sure bet. Casino revenues across Asia are projected to grow at a 15.8 per cent annual rate to US$34.4 billion in 2012, up from US$16.5 billion at present, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study released yesterday. Governments across the region have eyed Macau's boom in gaming-driven tourism and bumper tax revenues with envy, and several are responding with ambitious plans to liberalise casino gaming. But Macau is widely expected to maintain its lead. The study projects it will account for 78 per cent of all growth in regional gaming to 2012. 'Macau has such an enormous amount of critical mass in terms of integrated casino resorts ... that it will be hard for any other country to catch up within the next five years,' said Jonathan Galaviz, a partner at Las Vegas-based research consultancy Globalysis. Regulatory uncertainties around the region are one challenge. The Philippines' plans for several large casino resorts came into focus this week after this newspaper revealed Australian billionaire James Packer's negotiations for a stake in a proposed US$1.5 billion casino hotel and convention complex at Manila Bay. Mr Packer's company Crown confirmed that talks began last year and said it had assisted Bloombury Investments in submitting a prelimary development proposal to the government, but rejected comments by the chief executive of the Philippines' gaming regulatory agency that it had paid any part of a US$100 million licence deposit. 'Crown is currently reviewing the nature and extent of any future involvement with the Philippines casino proposal,' the company said in a statement. Nearly all would-be rivals to Macau are attempting to lure investors by undercutting the enclave's steep 39 per cent tax on gaming revenues. The Philippines has proposed a rate of 15 per cent for foreign players and 25 per cent for locals at the Manila Bay casinos, while Singapore's rates come in at about 11.5 per cent for high rollers and 22 per cent for mass-market customers. With a lower tax rate, casino operators are able to offer substantially higher player rebates and commissions to the VIP junket agents who bring in high spenders, extend them gambling credit and collect their debts. But regulatory approaches vary. Macau has generally taken a laissez-faire approach to the 4,000 or so junket agents who work under the umbrella of the 200-plus VIP junket operators actually registered in the city. Singapore is expected to take a much more hands-on approach, subjecting all junkets to significant review and licensing procedures, according to one industry executive based in the city state. The more intrusive the review of junket operators the more difficult it would be to capture a share of Macau's massive VIP gaming business, the executive said.