Duterte Denies Liu Che-woo Meeting on Boracay Island Casino
President Rodrigo Duterte claimed on April 9 he knew nothing about plans by Galaxy Entertainment Group (GEG) to build a casino-resort on Boracay Island. Photos published months ago by the Malacanang Palace show otherwise.
Duterte’s own official residence shows pictures of him sitting down the Lui Che-woo, the chairman of Galaxy Entertainment, the Chinese casino company which recently announced plans to build a Boracay casino.
The presidential photos, which show Rodrigo Duterte shaking hands with Mr. Lui, were published on December 6, 2017 — only four months ago. Philippine Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (PACGOR) chairperson Andrea Domingo were present in the photos, along with GEG vice chairman Francis Lui Yiu Tung.
Duterte-Liu Meeting in December
Published reports in ABS-CBN News from December 2017 included quotes from Andrea Domingo saying that the Galaxy Entertainment executives had assured Duterte they would take special care of the environmental impact of the GEG casino on Boracay Island.
The article noted the PACGOR head saying, “I don’t think they would risk losing that investment by dumping filth in front of their property.”
In March, PACGOR granted a provisional license to Galaxy Entertainment for a Boracay Island casino. Construction on a $500 million integrated casino-resort was set to begin in 2019. The development was expected to be located on a 23-hectare property in Barangay Manoc-Manoc on Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan.
Duterte Closes Boracay Island
Instead, Rodrigo Duterte announced recently he planned to put Boracay Island under a “land reform program” and hand the island over to local farmers. The president said the island would be closed for six months to undergo environmental repairs. Closure of the island is set to begin on April 26.
When asked by reporters about the Galaxy Entertainment Group’s planned casino, President Duterte replied, “What? What casino? Who owns the casino? There are no plans there for casinos. There are too many.”
Senator Trillanes: “A Blatant Lie”
Philippine Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, an outspoken opponent of President Duterte, called the president’s display on Monday a “blatant lie”. Trillanes said that December 2017 meeting was a sure sign that an agreement in principle had been made.
Trillanes said of Duterte’s Monday statement, “That is a blatant lie. That is why I showed this, because it is clear this is a courtesy call. When there is a courtesy call by a big businessman, that means it’s a done deal.”
Rodrigo Duterte’s reign as Philippine president has included several run-ins with domestic and foreign gaming operators. Early on, gaming analysts feared Duterte would ban all legal gambling in the Philippines.
A few weeks into his tenure, Duterte stripped the license from PhilWeb, a network of over 200 land-based computer gaming facilties. PhilWeb was owned by Philip Ongpin, a billionaire political opponent of Duterte’s, so the closure was seen as retribution against a political opponent.
Philip Ongpin eventually sold PhilWeb to Gregorio Areneta a few months later and the company’s gaming license was reinstated.
By that time, PACGOR’s executives had been told to transition away from gaming operations and focus only on regulatory activities. PACGOR is both the Philippines’ gaming regulator and one of its largest gaming operators, so many saw PACGOR as having a conflict of interest over the years.
Thus, the commandment to PACGOR was seen as a sign of reform both inside and outside of the Philippines. Of course, over a year after that order, PACGOR still remains a gambling operator with several casinos.
Resorts World Manila Shutdown
Resorts World Manila received similar treatment to PhilWeb, though in that case authorities had reason to shut down the gaming operation for a time. In June 2017, Resorts World Manila — which has a tenuous connection to Genting Group through a Philippine subsidiary — was the target of a robbery attempt and arson.
The resulting fire left 38 casino goers dead. The assailant set fire to one of the gaming tables and dozens of people suffocated while trying to escape the gaming floor. In the wake of the deaths, PACGOR stripped Resorts World Manila of its license, pending investigation.
Weeks later, the license was restored. PACGOR ordered new security procedures for the Manila land-based casino, along with new safety upgrades to the casino’s fire prevention methods.
Duterte v. Philippine Gambling
While several of those incidents can be justified, it established a pattern of ambivalence towards online and offline gambling interests. Combined with the crackdown on online gambling operations which employ Chinese nationals, it appears that Rodrigo Duterte has an animus against gambling operations.
Perhaps President Duterte is against all vices, like he is against drug use. Perhaps he likes to play up his dislike of rich gaming operators to play the common man role. Maybe he simply does not like foreign investors, or he felt he should have been consulted before PACGOR made a final decision. Maybe he wants something in return for his consent.
Whatever the case, Rodrigo Duterte’s dodgy behavior over Boracay Island’s casino project might scare away investors. With multi-billion dollar casino investments being discussed by Japanese, Chinese, and America gaming operators, he could cost his nation billions in foreign investment capital.