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The casino sector in Macau might have been dealt a better hand last quarter, but Asia's top gaming destination could soon face more competition in the region, as the Philippines looks to raise its stake in the sector.
"You know, with more properties coming online, it should increase the size of the (Philippine) market. I think medium- to long-term, everybody's going to do great," said Enrique Razon, chairman and CEO of Bloomberry Resorts and International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI) ー the largest port operator in the Philippines.
A port magnate, Razon entered the casino industry in the Philippines in 2013, investing $1.2 billion in the Solaire Resort. His casino unit, Bloomberry, is one of four companies (including Melco-Crown, Genting and Okada) operating casinos in the Las Vegas-style strip known as Entertainment City in Metro Manila.
While the number of casinos Bloomberry opens in Manila ultimately depends on the size of the market, Razon said having four casinos in the next 5 to 6 years would be "an okay mix."
Alex Bumazhny, an analyst at Fitch Ratings, told CNBC last December that the Philippines was unlikely to topple Singapore in the gaming space in Southeast Asia. This was because the latter received a greater number of tourists that contributed to higher gaming revenues.
Tourism figures to the Philippines could, however, improve in the near future, Razon said, pointing to a thaw in Philippine-China ties under President Rodrigo Duterte. "Travel restrictions to the Philippines have been lifted by China after President Duterte's visit to China, so that's helped generally in tourism coming into the Philippines," he said.
Another factor that Razon said would give the Philippines a leg up over Macau is its large domestic population. Currently, around 55 percent of the company's gaming revenues come from overseas and 45 percent are from the local market.
Finally, a lack of infrastructure was slowing the growth in the Philippine casino business, "especially the foreign players," Razon said. With the Duterte administration's plans for an infrastructure build-out, business prospects for the sector could potentially improve.
As for whether Manila can give Macau a run for its money?
"It's a long game," Razon said. "Of course ... there's a lot of 'ifs' to that. If, if, if, you know. So we'll have to see."
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