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Gokongwei in talks to join Okada for Vegas style, $2-B casino by bay

/ 03:58 AM July 13, 2012

John Gokongwei Jr.

The gaming and entertainment mecca rising on a reclaimed area south of Manila is the latest playground of the country’s billionaires.

Taipan John Gokongwei Jr. is reportedly in talks to join the Las Vegas-style project of Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada, one of the four groups granted a license to operate a casino in the $5-billion recreation project.

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Sources in the stock market said Gokongwei’s property arm, Robinson Land Corp., has offered to run the gaming and retail operations of Okada’s Tiger Resorts project, worth $2 billion, in Entertainment City, a 100-hectare property on the edge of Manila Bay.

Tiger has rights to develop 45 hectares, the biggest among the four licensees, in Entertainment City.

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An official of the Gokongwei group, who requested not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the conglomerate, said the group was considering the project.

To beat Wynn Resorts

The sources said the Gokongwei group beat several local businesses, notably the Lopez group, that vied to be a partner of Okada. The Lopezes own media giant ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. and property developer Rockwell Land.

Okada, also known as the pachinko king of Japan, broke ground on his casino in Entertainment City on January 26, promising more than 2,000 guest rooms in three hotels, with the planned opening in the first half of 2014.

The groundbreaking came a few weeks before his American partner in Macau and Las Vegas casinos, Steve Wynn, accused him of making improper cash payments and gifts to Philippine gaming regulators.

Okada denied making improper payments.

Wynn sees Okada’s project in Entertainment City as a threat to his casino in Macau.

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On his visit to Manila in May, Okada predicted that the center of gravity of the global gaming industry would shift from Las Vegas to Asia, with the Philippines playing a significant part in attracting patrons from around the world.

“My dream is to create the best casino in the world here in the Philippines,” he said. “This is why I’m focusing on Philippine gaming—to make it the best in the world and to beat Wynn Resorts.”

Andrew Tan again

Gokongwei, who owns a shopping mall chain, hotel resorts and the country’s biggest budget airline, Cebu Pacific, would be joined in the project by another Filipino billionaire, Andrew Tan, whose property group would handle the land development side of Okada’s casino project.

Tan, through his listed investment holding firm Alliance Global Group Inc., is also involved in another Entertainment City project, the $1.1-billion, 31-hectare Resorts World Bayshore project of Travellers International Hotel Group, his partnership with Genting Hong Kong Ltd.

Travellers International runs the wildly successful Resorts World, beside Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City.

Gokongwei’s foray into casinos is the latest in a string of billion-dollar transactions involving investors in Entertainment City.

Razon, Henry Sy

In May, ports mogul Enrique Razon Jr. raised P8.85 billion from the stock market to bankroll the 16-hectare Solaire Manila luxury casino and hotel-resort project of his gaming firm, Bloomberry Resorts and Hotels Inc.

Solaire Manila is expected to be the first to open among the projects of the four licensees.

A few weeks ago, a consortium led by retail king Henry Sy took in Macau casino giant Melco Crown Entertainment—owned by Australian billionaire James Packer and Lawrence Ho, son of Macau gaming tycoon Stanley Ho—as a partner in its $1-billion, 8-hectare project.

Pagcor has required all licensees to put in a minimum $1-billion investment in each integrated resort (to be spent before the term of President Aquino ends in 2016), build a minimum of 250,000 square meters of floor area and complete 800 hotel rooms with an average room area of 40 square meters.

Gokongwei is listed at No. 4 on the Forbes’ list of richest Filipinos with an estimated net worth of $3.2 billion. He was behind Sy (No. 1 with $9.1 billion) and Razon (No. 3 with $3.6 billion), and ahead of Tan (No. 6 with $2.3 billion).

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TAGS: Business, casino, Entertainment, Gaming, John Gokongwei Jr., Kazuo Okada, Philippines
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