Philippines pushes forward online to contain Covid damage

Philippines, online

For this edition of our magazine, we focus on Southeast Asia, with a particular look at the Philippines, which longer-term is still viewed as one of the most promising markets in the region. 

The country’s casino industry has been among the hardest hit in Asia, with the integrated resorts in Manila’s Entertainment City having remained mostly closed to the general public since the beginning of the crisis last year.

The capital and other areas of the country have faced successive waves of lockdown as the government has grappled to bring the Covid crisis under control in a sprawling archipelago that’s home to more than 108 million people. 

After a five-month closure, the properties were allowed to open in August last year at 30 percent capacity with invited guests and long-term hotel guests only. The system was designed to allow the operators to fine-tune their operations to accommodate the new safety procedures and to train their staff.

As a result, operators in the Philippines reported a near 90 percent decline in revenue for 2020, the biggest decline anywhere in Asia.

However, the Philippine Gaming and Amusement Corp (PAGCOR) has not rested on its laurels. Concerned about the loss of a highly lucrative revenue source, the regulator last year announced that it would allow the casinos to accept online bets from VIP players. The news triggered a ripple of excitement in the online gaming world keen to see whether the announcement would pave the way for a regulated Asian jurisdiction for domestic players.

One of our articles in this section focuses on the more recent developments when it comes to these local licenses. So far, three integrated resorts in Entertainment City and a PAGCOR casino in Subic Bay have been authorized to accept bets and are understood to be carrying out trials. Industry experts say other governments around Asia are closely watching the Philippines’ experiment and are perhaps more willing now than ever to consider regulating the sector to repair Covid-ravaged coffers.

In this section, we also focus on the island of Cebu as a gaming hub. The island is one of the top tourism destinations in the country and is already home to multiple casinos. Two new large-scale properties are also under development, with PH Resorts saying its Emerald Bay will now open in the third quarter of next year, due to pandemic-related delays.

Analysts hold mixed views on just how exciting the island will be as an actual gaming destination and say the operators need to stay focused on catering to the tastes of the local market to underpin their earnings.

Switching countries, we also take a look at the prospects for Resorts World Las Vegas, which opens this month. It perhaps seems a stretch, but the resort is owned by Malaysia’s Genting Group, one of the biggest operators in the region.

The group is highly diversified and in recent years has been making a push into the U.S. market. The more than $4 billion Resorts World Las Vegas will be the first from the ground up resort to open on the Las Vegas Strip and expectations are running high. Gaming revenue in the U.S. appears to have bounced back with a vengeance and Las Vegas is reporting booming trade.

Property President and CEO Scott Sibella also offers up his views on the opening in a Q&A with Asia Gaming Brief.