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Biz Buzz: Solaire goes solo

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Last week’s shock announcement that Bloomberry Resorts was ending its relationship with Global Gaming Asset Management LLC—the service operator of the $1.2-billion Solaire Casino and Resort—came as a little surprise to industry insiders who said that the problems between the two parties had been brewing for some time now.

According to our sources, Solaire’s owner, ports tycoon Enrique K. Razon Jr. (known to many by his initials “EKR”), had been growing increasingly disappointed with GGAM and its boss, Bill Weidner, whose claim to fame is having been the former boss of the iconic Las Vegas Sands.

“The GGAM people had very good resumés,” said one industry source with knowledge of the developments. “They looked very good on paper, but they simply didn’t deliver.”

In particular, the source said that GGAM and its expatriate team failed to deliver in their most important task, which was to bring in the high rollers from Hong Kong, Macau and China by hooking up with a broad network of junket operators.

“Very few high rollers were coming in to play in Solaire,” the source said. “And those who were coming in were doing so thanks to EKR’s efforts. So what was the point of having them around?”

Another source said that the ports tycoon was also displeased with other aspects of GGAM’s management of Solaire, including the ordering of chips for the casino, the operations of its slot machine network, as well as the very layout of the casino floor itself.

“They used a Las Vegas design which did not take into account the local culture,” said the source, who added that even the policy where minors were not allowed to cross the carpeted gaming area to reach the other side of the vast casino floor became a contentious issue. “If you look at the layout of the place, it’s very much like Las Vegas.”

Solaire had recently “let go” of a number of staffers, many of whom were pirated from other hotels at higher rates, as their four-month probationary period recently ended. These staffers are now knocking on the doors of their former employers, we hear.

In any case, word on the street now is that Razon will no longer engage another casino operator to run Solaire, but has instead decided to “go it alone” based on the experience gained by his team in recent months.

And watching on the sidelines—and presumably learning from all these events—is Macau-based Melco Crown, which has now committed to open its own Belle Grande casino resort by September 2014.

Naturally, Melco Crown and its local partners are promising to outdo Solaire on all fronts, especially when it comes to junket operators (for which the Macau firm already has an existing network). But let’s reserve that story for another day.—Daxim L. Lucas

Thatcherism

What can President Aquino learn from the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher?

We may learn the answer soon after a senior official from the United Kingdom—the birthplace of PPPs—offered to lend local policymakers a helping hand in getting its big-ticket infrastructure projects under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme off the ground.

UK Trade Minister Lord Stephen Green was in Manila this week to assess potential investment opportunities for British companies in the Philippines. He also met with local Cabinet officials to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral ties between the United Kingdom and the Philippines.

The PPP program was launched with much fanfare in 2010 as the main solution to solving the country’s infrastructure spending woes by letting the private sector build more power plants, roads, airports and classrooms.

Today, President Aquino’s much-hyped PPP program features more “Power-Point Presentations” than actual projects.

The United Kingdom wants to help change this. The UK, of course, was where the trend of privatization of key government services started, courtesy of “Thatcherism.” “We have experts in all aspects in PPPs. Bankers, project finances, lawyers, technical professionals. They have a great depth of expertise there,” Green said.—Paolo G. Montecillo

Squid tactics?

Manila Bay Development Corp. chair Jacinto Ng Sr. believes there is an ongoing campaign to discredit him and his firm, which owns the land where Uniwide Coastal Mall stands.

Indeed, Uniwide’s Jimmy Gow has accused his “former” business partner, Ng, of turning his back on him when the Uniwide business went belly up in the late 1990s. Well, according to Ng’s camp, this is farthest from the truth because they were never partners to begin with.

The Ng camp pointed out that it was the Uniwide group that approached MDBC in the 1990s, asking to lease a portion of the reclaimed property situated between Roxas Boulevard and Manila Bay. Since the land being eyed by Gow was newly reclaimed (time was needed to make the ground compact and solid), MBDC declined his requests. Thus, Ng’s group said it was untrue that they enticed Gow to build the Uniwide Coastal Mall on their property.

But Gow had aggressive expansion plans for what was then a booming empire and “badgered” MBDC to lease the land to him. In 1994, a contract of lease for an originally requested 20 hectares (later reduced to 10 hectares) was signed between Gow and MBDC with construction beginning immediately. The Ng camp is now alleging that the building permit for Coastal Mall was issued only in March 1996, two years after construction began).

In 1996, Uniwide sold shares to investors through an initial public offering. In 1998, the company started having financial troubles in the wake of the 1997 East Asian financial crisis. In 1999 it went to the Securities and Exchange Commission to seek rehab protection. In April of 2005, Uniwide defaulted on its rental payments to MBDC, the firm said.

So what’s at stake in this whole fight? It’s the land on which Uniwide Coastal Mall stands, which has become more valuable thanks to the southern bus terminal set up by the Metro Manila Development Authority, and the adjacent Pagcor Entertainment City. Expect more fireworks.—Daxim L. Lucas

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Tags: change in management , gaming and casinos , Global Gaming Asset Management , Jacinto Ng Sr. , Jimmy Gow , property , public-private partnership , Solaire , Thatcherism , Uniwide Coastal Mall



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