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PHILIPPINES: Leisure & Resorts World (LRWC) and Galaxy Entertainment Group plan "world-class beach resort and casino"

MANILA -- Macau-based casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group is planning to expand into the Philippines in an effort to capitalize on the growing Chinese tourism there, and its local partner predicts the move will be a "game changer" in the tourism sector.

CLIFF VENZON, Nikkei staff writer   NIKKEI Asian Review

Manila-listed Leisure & Resorts World (LRWC) on Monday confirmed it is in talks with Galaxy for a "world-class beach resort and casino" on the central Philippine island of Boracay, a popular tourist destination. The investment is worth around $300 million to $500 million spread over several years, sources at LRWC said.

Construction could begin as early as next year once necessary permits are secured. A Galaxy delegation, led by founder and Chairman Lui Che-woo with his son and Vice Chairman Francis Lui Yiu-tung, paid a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte last week to discuss the project.

"Galaxy is excited about the possibility of teaming with LRWC to develop a world-class beach resort for our players in Boracay," the younger Liu said. He added that with improving China-Philippines relations, Galaxy and its parent K Wah Group wish to explore attractive business opportunities in the Philippines.

LRWC, which runs traditional and electronic casinos, said: "If the project materializes as envisaged, it's going to be a game changer in the Philippine resort and tourism landscape."

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, the industry regulator, favors new casino investments outside Manila in order to avoid market cannibalization in the capital, where Macau's Melco Resorts & Entertainment and Malaysia's Genting Group have casinos. However, past attempts to build gambling facilities on Boracay island were opposed by some local residents as well as religious groups.

Boracay is a top destination for Chinese tourists, who have visited the Philippines more frequently since Duterte signaled a pro-China diplomatic approach. In May alone, the latest official data, the number of Chinese tourists jumped by 57% from a year ago to 73,649. From January to May, China became the Philippines' third-biggest source of tourists with 388,896 arrivals, comprising 13.49% of the total.

Bloomberry Resorts, which runs the Solaire casino in Manila, said the number of Chinese gamblers surged after Duterte visited China in October last year.