Australia's Packer, Macau's Ho in Manila casino talks

The Philippines' richest family said on Wednesday it was in talks with Australian billionaire James Packer and Macau gambling tycoon Lawrence Ho to develop a $1-billion casino in Manila.

SM Investments Corp, which is controlled by the Henry Sy family, confirmed an Australian media report that the casino plan was being discussed, but said no deal had yet been agreed.

"These are just talks for now. Nothing is final," Cora Guidote, senior vice president of SM Investments Corp, told AFP.

The Australian Financial Review reported that Packer and Ho, through their joint venture casino operator Melco Crown Entertainment, would enter into an equal joint venture with Henry Sy Jr.

Lawrence Ho is the son of gaming mogul Stanley Ho.

The casino would form part of a huge gambling development, which the government hopes will turn the Philippine capital into the world's number-two gaming destination ahead of Singapore and Las Vegas, and behind only Macau.

Despite Guidote's insistence that no deal was imminent, the Review said that Packer and Ho flew to Manila on Tuesday to sign the deal that could be announced as early as this week.

Sy's SM group holds one of four licences handed out by the Philippine government to build a casino worth at least $1 billion each at a site on Manila Bay called Entertainment City.

Gaming regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. has also granted licences to Malaysia's Genting Group, which already runs Manila's largest casino, Bloomberry Resorts Corp., and another casino backed by Japanese gaming equipment supplier Kazuo Okada.

The regulator was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

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