By Denise A. Valdez

LEISURE & Resorts World Corp. (LRWC) is dropping its plan to build a casino on its 23-hectare property in Boracay, as the company is no longer in talks with Galaxy Entertainment Group for the project.

In a chance interview last week, LRWC Acting Chairman Eusebio H. Tanco said the company is no longer looking at building a casino when asked by reporters for updates on the planned $550-million integrated resort.

Wala na… We are not looking at casino. But I’m keeping that piece of land,” he said after the Philippine Stock Exchange Bell Awards 2020 press conference in Bonifacio Global City.

“I’ll just hold on to that piece of land, but I’m not going to do a casino there. I’ll just land-bank it,” Mr. Tanco added.

LRWC bought the parcels of land in Boracay in 2017 for the planned million-dollar resort development. It was supposed to partner with Macau-based casino giant Galaxy Entertainment Group for the casino component of the resort.

Wala na muna [There are no more talks for now]. We’ll just land-bank it, then we wait for opportunities,” he said, referring to talks with Galaxy.

Mr. Tanco said LRWC will instead focus on retail and its core businesses in 2020.

“You have Shangri-La Mactan, they’re doing very well without a casino. I have a joint venture with Ayala in Mactan, wala rin casino [there’s also no casino]. We’re building a huge resort complex without a casino. I’m not a casino guy kasi eh. Leave the casino to the casino players,” he said, explaining LRWC’s decision to withdraw the Boracay casino plan.

LRWC was initially planning to open the Boracay resort in 2021.

The project, however, encountered obstacles as the planned casino drew negative reactions from various stakeholders including President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

With the suspension of the casino plan, Environment Undersecretary Benny D. Antiporda said the department is happy as Boracay is better off without the gambling facility.

“If indeed it is true that they will no longer push through with their casino project, we consider it a positive development, for in this administration we are really eager to convert Boracay Island into a family-oriented tourism area, not a party place to vices like gambling and intoxicating drinking,” he said in a text message on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tanco said LRWC’s is expecting to complete next month the redemption of all its preferred shares worth P1.65 billion.

“We have internal resources… We should be able to redeem everything by January,” he said.

The company told the stock exchange in October it was buying all its outstanding preferred shares where the redeemed shares “will be treated as Treasury Shares until and unless the shares are retired or reissued.”

Once the transaction is completed, the company’s foreign ownership would go down to 18.37% from 18.43% as of end-September.

Earnings of LRWC was slashed to P23.56 million in the first nine months of 2019 from P266.04 million in the year prior due to a slowdown in its casino and online businesses.