Packer, Ho in $1 bn Philippine casino project

Australian billionaire James Packer and Macau gambling tycoon Lawrence Ho are teaming up with the Philippines' richest family to develop a $1 billion casino in Manila, the Philippine partner said Friday.

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

SM Investments Corp, which is controlled by the Henry Sy family, told the Philippine Stock Exchange its affiliate Belle Corp signed an agreement with Melco Crown Entertainment to form a consortium to develop the project.

"Subject to (regulatory) requirements, Belle and MCE plan to create a US$1 billion premiere integrated resort facility and enter into implementing and definitive agreements within the next two months," the disclosure said.

Melco Crown, which operates a Macau casino, confirmed the signing of a consortium agreement Thursday in a disclosure to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

It said its unit MPEL Projects expects to invest up to $580 million over the course of the project, or more than half its entire cost.

Melco Crown is a joint venture between Melco International Development Ltd of Ho, son of Macau gaming mogul Stanley Ho, and Packer's Crown Ltd of Australia.

Belle 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. (Pagcor) has also granted licences to Malaysia's Genting Group, Bloomberry Resorts Corp., and another casino backed by Japanese gaming equipment supplier Kazuo Okada.

With the completion of the $4 billion Entertainment City project by 2016, Philippine gaming revenues are expected to draw level with current number two Singapore's revenues of about $7 billion, Pagcor chief Cristino Naguiat told AFP in a recent interview.

Asia is poised to eclipse the United States as the world's biggest gaming market in 2013, powered by the region's growing economic prosperity and fondness for gambling, PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a report in December.

Revenue in Asia is forecast to more than double from $34.3 billion in 2010 to $79.3 billion in 2015, it said.

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