Macau has for the best part of two decades been recognized as the undisputed king of Asia when it comes to gaming. And, until recently, the “next big thing” was Japan – widely viewed as the great untapped market destined to move into second place on the regional IR map.
But with Macau now firmly stuck in a COVID-19 rut and Japan having done all it can to throw its IR opportunity away, there is only one jurisdiction currently capturing the imagination of gaming operators and suppliers Asia-wide.
The Philippines may still find itself a long way from producing the massive revenues enjoyed by Macau in its heyday (which peaked at US$45 billion in 2013) – 2019 Philippines GGR was US$4.3 billion – but it is without doubt Asia’s most exciting growth market in 2022. Talk to any Asia-facing gaming product supplier and they will inevitably point to the Philippines as the place to be in the coming years.
Why is this the case? Putting aside the recent reopening of international borders following two years of COVID-enforced closures, there are three main reasons for this.
One, the Philippines benefits from a regulatory regime that, to put it nicely, is “moderate” in its oversight of the industry and largely supportive of initiatives aimed at growing the gaming pie. Recent examples include introduction of the “PIGO” (Philippine Inland Gaming Operators) scheme allowing land-based operators to offer online gaming to members, liberalization of online sports betting, and the decision to green-light casino development on Boracay in an effort to boost tourism revenues. The Philippines is also one of a handful of jurisdictions in Asia to allow proxy betting – the practice of having a third party on site placing bets on a player’s behalf.
Two, infrastructure is continually improving. To say that Manila isn’t the easiest city in the world to travel around is an understatement, but there have been clear efforts to improve its attractiveness to tourists. Opened in 2016, the NAIA Expressway connecting the airport with Entertainment City – home to City of Dreams, Okada Manila and Solaire – has turned a long and frustrating journey through heavy traffic into a veritable walk (drive) in the park.
Likewise, outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte’s flagship “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program is midway through the process of constructing major new road and rail links between Manila and Clark to the north, most notable being the US$15 billion North-South Commuter Railway which will also link to Clark International Airport.
Clark, a favorite gaming and golfing destination for South Koreans, is envisioned as becoming a national tourism hub, with its array of sparkling new casino resorts to be supported by four new airport terminals by 2025 – boosting its annual capacity from 4.2 million to 12.2 million.
And three new IR developments are opening at record pace. This year has already seen NUSTAR Resort & Casino open its doors in Cebu, to be followed by another called Emerald Bay in 2023. Bloomberry is also due to open its second Manila IR (Solaire North) next year and recently announced the acquisition of land in Cavite, south of Manila, to develop a third IR. A series of substantial expansion projects are also nearing completion at IRs in Clark. One of those, Hann Casino Resort – formerly known as Widus – launched in December, bringing world-class hospitality to this rising gaming hub.
The Philippines is without doubt the place to see and be seen over the next few years.