Corporate News

By Daphne J. Magturo, Reporter

Okada group to complete PHL casino by 2017

Posted on March 10, 2015

THE GROUP of Japanese casino mogul Kazuo Okada yesterday said it will complete the integrated casino in Entertainment City by the first quarter of 2017, following changes in its project plan that will cost it an additional $700 million in investments.

KAZUO OKADA, chairman of Universal Entertainment Corp., speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony of its casino-hotel projects in Manila in this Jan. 26, 2012 file photo. -- REUTERS
In a Feb. 15 letter to gaming regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), Mr. Okada’s Tiger Resort, Leisure and Entertainment, Inc. requested for an extension of the deadline of the project completion, saying that the company plans to increase the gross floor area of Manila Bay Resorts -- the casino it is building along Manila Bay -- by 97,000 square meters.

The changes will result in “additional guest rooms and parking area and would also contribute to the strengthening of the structure and architectural design,” PAGCOR President and Chief Operating Officer Jorge V. Sarmiento yesterday told lawmakers.

The House Committee on Games and Amusements summoned Tiger Resort officials and PAGCOR to a hearing yesterday as lawmakers conduct a probe into Mr. Okada’s alleged violation of Philippine laws.

The hearing for the most part instead dwelt on the status of the delayed casino project.

Asked to confirm Tiger Resort’s request for extension, the group’s legal counsel Jose Lis C. Leagogo told reporters on the sidelines of the hearing: “Yes, we did.”

Tiger Resort signed a contract with PAGCOR in 2013, agreeing to finish the project by March 31, 2015 -- which was actually an extension of an original deadline slated for 2013.

Asked by Committee Chairperson Elpidio F. Barzaga to confirm that the company would not be able to finish on time, Tiger Resort President Kenji Sugiyama replied: “Yes.”

“We have changed the design to build a better casino,” he added.

But PAGCOR cautioned against further delay.

PAGCOR’s Mr. Sarmiento said: “The immediate effect is if they (Okada group) failed to finish by March 31, 2015, it would mean forfeiture of the P100 million bond they submitted to us.”

Mr. Sugiyama also said the project is now “more than 50% complete” based on the original plan.

But Mr. Sarmiento said PAGCOR is currently evaluating the actual progress of the project, and if it found “that they are more than 50% delayed, it could mean suspension or revocation of their license.”

Under an agreement signed during the Arroyo administration, Entertainment City licensees are required to invest a minimum of $1 billion each.

Mr. Leagogo yesterday declined to comment on how much Tiger Resort has already spent on the project.

The casino project had been hounded by allegations its proponents bribed PAGCOR officials to get a license and violated the Anti-Dummy Law.

In a Sept. 24, 2014 letter to the Department of Justice -- a copy of which was provided during yesterday’s hearing -- the Prosecutor General recommended the “termination of the fact-finding investigation” on the bribery case on lack of sufficient evidence. The investigating panel -- composed of agents from the National Bureau of Investigation and a state prosecutor Prosecution Service -- meanwhile “recommended the filing of a complaint for the conduct of preliminary investigation and if evidence warrants, the prosecution of individuals and corporations for violation” of the Anti-Dummy Law, according to the Justice department letter.

NBI agents filed the complaint which is “now pending preliminary investigation,” it read.

PAGCOR said it has not yet decided on whether it will approve Tiger’s request for extension of the deadline as well as the proposed changes in the project design, he added.

Asked by Caloocan City 2nd District Representative Edgar R. Erice for updates on talks with a potential local partner, Mr. Sugiyama replied: “It will soon be announced. We are still waiting for final instruction from the lawyer of our local partner. I cannot mention it as it’s still confidential.”

Manila Bay Resorts stands on a 48-hectare property in the state-run Entertainment City. Other licensees are Bloomberry Resorts Corp., which owns Solaire Resort & Casino; and Travellers International Hotel Group, Inc., which will build Resorts World Bayshore. Melco Crown (Philippines) Resorts Corp. also teamed up with the SM group to establish City of Dreams Manila.

Tiger Resort officials had said last year that the first phase of the original plan involves the construction of two hotel towers with 500 rooms each, as well as 500 gaming tables and 3,000 slot machines.

The second phase, meanwhile, will have a 1,000-room hotel.

Tiger Resort is a unit of Japan-based Universal Entertainment Corp., which is controlled by Mr. Okada.