Melco Crown fosters big time dreams for Manila casino

Macau-based casino and resort developer Melco Crown Entertainment Limited intends to draw players from its client and junket network along as it plans to raise its exposure by $60 million to $680 million in its casino resort at Entertainment City in Manila.

"Naturally we have a strong client and customer base originating from China, Hong Kong, Macau and the region," Lawrence Ho, co-chairman and CEO of Melco Crown Entertainment, told reporters during the brand launch of its integrated casino resort held in Makati City.

"Given the experience we have with our junket partners in Macau, we're very encouraged that between them and our own customer base, there will be no lack of demand," he added.

Melco Crown (Philippines) Resort Corp., a subsidiary of Melco Crown Entertainment, said Wednesday its integrated casino resort at Entertainment City, Manila will be called "City of Dreams Manila" and is set to open in the middle of 2014.

City of Dreams Manila is the namesake of Melco Crown Entertainment’s world-class flagship resort in Macau, City of Dreams.

To finance junket tours for high rollers from Macau and Australia, Ho said Melco Crown Entertainment is increasing its Philippine investment to $680 million from $620 million. "We're going to do additional things to wow them, like bring them in private jets.... helicopters," he added.

Total investments in the Melco Crown Philippines is around $1.3 billion, said Sy-led Belle Corp. vice chairman Willy Ocier, whose company is a partner of Melco Crown in the Philippine casino resort project. Ocier noted Belle Corp. has a $650-million stake in the venture.

In March, Belle Corp. closed a $1-billion deal with Melco Crown Entertainment to jointly develop a casino, hotel, retail and entertainment complex on reclaimed land along Manila Bay.

30% income tax

Part of the investment is bringing in high-end products and amenities, said Ho, noting the resort complex will encompass a

260-room, six-star Crown Towers hotel.

This will be the the third Crown Towers in the world after the one in Melbourne, Australia and the Forbes Five Star Crown Towers at City of Dreams Macau.

Melco Crown is also increasing the number of gaming tables, slot machines, bonus junket tables and electronic gaming machines after regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) enacted revisions to Regulations 2 (Casino Layout), Regulations 3 (Gaming Tables) and Regulations 4 (Electronic Gaming Machines) of the Casino Regulatory Manual.

Ho said City of Dreams Manila will operate 365 gaming tables from 242, 1,680 slot machines from 1,450 and 1,680 electronic table games from 1,450 when it opens.

On the 30-percent income tax the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) imposed on PAGCOR and its licensees, Ho said something should be done about it. "I am hoping the tax issue gets resolved very quickly.

"We're comfy in PAGCOR's hands. But it will be major factor in further investment in the market," he added.

On April 23, the BIR issued a memorandum circular saying PAGCOR and its licensed casino operators are subject to the 30-percent corporate income tax instead of the 5 percent franchise tax on gross gaming revenues.

In June, Bloomberry Resorts Corporation chairman Enrique K. Razon was keeping his fingers crossed that the tax issue will be resolved within the year, saying the income tax provision will not deter investment in the gaming industry. – VS, GMA News