Lui Che Woo Confident GEG Will Build Boracay Island Casino
The 89-year old founder and CEO of Galaxy Entertainment Group (GEG), Lui Che Woo, told CNBC recently he expects GEG to build a casino on Boracay Island in the Philippines. The casino executive, whose company owns and operates a variety of casinos in Macau, is opposed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Liu said of his plans to build a $500 million casino resort on Boracay Island, “We are very confident. From the beginning until now, our plans have not changed.”
Rodrigo Duterte has another vision. In April 2018, President Duterte ordered the closure of Boracay Island for a massive cleanup program. The Philippine president called the island a “cesspool” due to poro sewage infrastructure.
According to the president, if the sewage systems were not repaired and expanded, Boracay Island would become uninhabitable. The waters surrounding the island would be too contaminated for swimming.
Duterte on Boracay Island Casinos
Meanwhile, President Duterte said he was canceling GEG’s Boracay Island project. When asked by media about a meeting he had with Liu and the GEG executives in December 2017 to finalize the deal, Duterte denied a meeting ever took place. The media quickly pointed to Philippine government websites which showed Duterte meeting with Liu.
Instead of answering questions about the apparent deception, Duterte deflected questions by taking an anti-billionaire stance. He said, “You know the billionaires? They were of the belief that that island there is okay for anything. They want to build casinos there. I did not allow it.”
Lui Che Woo Remains Confident
Despite the public pronouncements and mind games, Galaxy Entertainment’s CEO told CNBC that that Boracay Island project was still in the works. The CNBC discussion was one of several issues discussed as Liu promoted the 2018 Liu Che Woo Prizes, which are bestowed on people who make efforts to better the world in some way.
Lui Che Woo, who is estimated to be worth $19 billion by Forbes, said his company’s goals ultimately are the same as Rodrigo Duterte. The Boracay Island cleanup program helps the casino development project, because it cleans up the island and makes it more attractive to tourists of all sorts – including VIP high rollers.
“Gaming Will…Be a Small Portion”
GEG’s chief executive emphasized the Boracay Island resort includes more than gaming. Lui Che Woo said, “Gaming will actually be a small portion, we expect a few dozen tables, as this is not our focus for Boracay. We hope it’ll become a truly good tourism spot and return it to the beautiful island it once was.”
The octogenarian told CNBC that people should not look to public pronouncements. Instead, they should look at the government’s actions, adding, “This is very different to what is being said out there. We don’t pay attention to unofficial commentary. When we first indicated our interest to invest, many people misunderstood and misinterpreted us. We don’t care about this.”
Lui’s Assurances on Boracay Island
Like President Duterte, it might not do to take Lui Che Woo at his word. Like the Philippine president, who plays to populist sentiment by pretending to be a straight-talking man of the people while actually coming from one of the elite families which has presided over Philippine society for centuries, Lui might be saying one thing for public consumption while meaning another.
Of course, casino developers are concerned about the gaming operations. A $500 million hotel on a remote island makes no sense if the gambling revenues are not added in. There is truth in the statement GEG will focus on high-end customers on the gaming side, while giving a hotel and resort experience to the mass market.
Galaxy Entertainment’s Japanese Casino Ambitions
The same can be said for Galaxy Entertainment’s ambitions in Japan. As Japanese officials prepare to give out three casino licenses over the coming year, many of the Asian casino executives applying for licenses have been sensitive to Japanese residents’ long time antipathy to gambling.
60% of Japanese residents say they do not want casino gambling legalized, which is why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP was careful to give the conservative Komeito Party many concessions on responsible gambling measures in the IR Casino Implementation Bill. Melco created the MelGuard system to help track problem gambling with facial recognition software, hoping to get a leg up in the competition for a Japanese casino license.
Thus it is no suprise that Galaxy Entertainment’s CEO was careful to show concern for Japanese anti-gambling attitudes, even while seeking to build a multi-billion dollar casino there: “We aim to go down this path. As for Japan’s ambitions in gaming, we honestly care and are really interested in participating.”