This past Tuesday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte fired the board and management of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation because he was unhappy with the lack of a public bid process and the resulting license terms for the Landing International casino resort project in Entertainment City near Manila. But what followed on Wednesday, I would assume reverberated throughout the country. In the announcement during the 117th Police Service Anniversary Celebration, he extended his disgust towards the entire industry, suggesting he would allow no new casinos beyond what already existed. “I will not allow it. I hate gambling. I do not want it. There will be no casinos outside of what are existing here. I am not granting anything.”
He was not reading from a prepared speech. Are there ultimately going to be caveats or clarifications to that? There are at least a half-dozen planned and licensed casino resorts throughout the country that are in some stage of development. If Duterte’s intent of ‘no new casinos’ means that all new casino-resort planning and construction should cease nationwide immediately, the economic losses to those developers would collectively be huge.
And perhaps equally importantly, many of these developments were planned in areas outside of Manila that could be well-served by economic development, like Clark and Cebu. Aside from Duterte’s mission to rid the country of drugs, it seemed that one of his primary platforms was to spread economic growth and wealth throughout the Philippines, rather than keep it concentrated (to a select few families) in Manila. These planned developments provide(d?) that opportunity.
The edict against new casinos in the Philippines is nothing new, as in January 2018 Duterte imposed a moratorium on PAGCOR granting new casino licenses. But at that time, anything already licensed still had a green light. If that light has suddenly changed colors, it is reasonable to assume the legal battles will begin. Essentially, it all comes down to what Duterte means by “I am not granting anything…” and whether that still means “no new licenses” as opposed to “no new casinos”. Perhaps by “no casinos outside of what are existing here” he strictly meant in Entertainment City, and not in the Philippines as a whole. We shall see…
Scott Fisher, Ph.D.