Why Manila can beat Macau as a gaming hub

Posted at 01/24/2013 4:29 PM | Updated as of 01/25/2013 3:50 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Macau may continue to be a prime destination for gamblers but a casino operator said Manila's better accessibility and lower tax rate may begin attracting more players and investments in the gaming industry.

"What's good about the airport here is there are a lot of flights coming in to Manila that don't access Macau. Sometimes, flying to Macau isn't a very easy thing," Michael French, chief operating officer at Solaire Resort and Casino, told ANC's Inside Business.

Solaire's casino area. Photo grabbed from http://www.solairemanila.com

French noted players would have to fly to Hong Kong and travel via ferry to get to casinos in Macau.

Moreover, French said Solaire, along with the other three entities building integrated gaming resorts in PAGCOR's Entertainment City, are building a highway connecting the gaming hub to the airport.

Aside from accessibility, Bradley Stone, president at Solaire's operator Global Gaming Asset Management, said the tax rate for gaming revenues in the Philippines is a big advantage for the country as this is lower than what gamblers pay for in Macau.

"There's a tax advantage, a pricing advantage, particularly for the high-end customers, the so-called whales we hear about in Macau and Singapore," Stone shared on ANC's Inside Business.

"Pricing is a very important thing. The tax rate against all gaming revenues in Macau is 39%, but the VIP tax in the philippines is only 15%," he pointed out.

The country's accessibility and the favorable tax rate for gamblers makes it a rising prime location for gaming enthusiasts, Stone said.

"We think as long as the Philippines builds the right type of product that is internationally competitive, and we believe we are building that in Solaire, we think we can be, in our own way, competitive with places like Singapore and Macau," Stone said.

Solaire, owned by port magnate Enrique Razon's Bloomberry Resorts Corp., will be the first gaming-resort complex in Entertainment City to open its doors to players.

The integrated resort and entertainment complex, which will house a vast casino area, hotel rooms, restaurants and a variety of high-end boutiques, is set to start operations in March this year.

French said Solaire will probably cater to more Filipinos in its first years of operation but foreign nationals are expected to flock to the complex in next two to three years.

"We think when Solaire opens we'll serve the local community certainly in our restaurants and casinos... but that's just as we begin. Over time, we see over the next two three years that this evens out to a 50-50 split of locals and people internationally visiting," French said.

Stone said Solaire has hired Filipinos working in Macau casinos although the gaming destination has also tapped fresh graduates from Manila and nearby provinces.

"We've actually brought home a significant number of Filipinos... those that came back didn't come back as dealers. They came back as pit managers, ship managers, and even the vice president of table games is a returning Filipina," Stone said.

French noted, "probably 50% of the people who work for us, this is their first job. They are fresh from colleges... we have a lot of youngsters."

Analysts have touted Manila as a rising destination for gamers amid the ongoing construction of integrated resort and entertainment properties in PAGCOR's Entertainment City.

This comes as gaming revenues in Singapore began slowing down late last year as the industry was hit by stricter regulations. Macau, however, has continued to see a stellar gaming industry.