PAMPANGA

Sangil: More gambling casinos in Clark Freeport

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OUTSIDE of Metro Manila, specifically around the cities of Pasay and Parañaque, there is no single place in the country where you can find a concentration of gambling casinos except Clark Freeport. Just last week, Fortune Gate opened its doors for the soft opening and will have its grand opening at the end of this month, according to my friend Bert Kilates. This is the former Casablanca at Stotsenberg Hotel owned by the late Mayor Carmelo "Tarzan" Lazatin and sold to a Hong Kong Chinese group.

Another one, the Heights Casino located at the newly constructed Hilton Hotel at Sun Valley, is slated to open in August. The owners are Korean and headed by Chairman Lee. He is the billionaire whom then Clark Development Corporation President Levi Laus convinced to invest at the zone. I should know because I was with the late Levi who travelled twice to Korea. This group also owns the Xenia Hotel and a casino there has already been in operation. Thousands of Filipino workers are benefiting now because of the investments.

The casinos now number to seven, namely, Mimosa Pagcor casino, Royce Hotel and Casino, Widus, Midori, Fortune Gate, Xenia and Heights at the Hilton. Then there are also online operations which are making billions like Eagle Sky. I bet you, Davao City's Dennis Uy has in mind of putting up a casino on his 290-hectare IE5 area which he reportedly purchased from a Kuwaiti group for something like P2 billion and his lease period extended to 75 years. Wow! Maybe we should ask Pagcor chairperson Andrea "Didi" Domingo if how many more are coming. Licensing of the casinos is the responsibility of Pagcor and is supposed to be closely monitored.

Their permits to operate are issued by Clark Development Corporation and monitoring of their activities is necessary and the correct incomes are supposed to be reported. Do they? Search me. Government should get 5% of their gross incomes. This five percent is equitably divided to five local government units, namely, Porac, Angeles, Mabalacat, Bamban and Capas.

I remember the year 1979 because that was my first trip to the United States of America, and highlighted by a two-night stay in Las Vegas. I strolled at the famous "The Strip" and I walked in and out of the casinos. Ah! The good life, if you have the money to spend. The casinos are money factories.

In 1979, the late Henry Sy Sr. was not yet in banking, retail, power and casino business. Now his family is involved with the City of Dreams, the biggest casino in operation today in this country. From one who migrated into the country and started selling shoes in a small store in Carriedo Street in Sta. Cruz district in Manila in the 50s, he was included among the 100 richest persons in the world. That's quite a feat.

Casino business is good and a profitable business. The Sys are now in partnership with Kerry Packer of Australia and Lawrence Ho of Macao and operates the City of Dreams. Enrique "Ricky" Razon Jr. who is in port terminal operations ventured also in the casino business and his Solaire Casino is raking in the money from the high rollers of Asian gamblers and Filipino gambling addicts. According to the papers, at 57, he is the youngest Filipino to make the Forbes richest men in the world list. There's another big one, the Okada. There is also on the drawing board a casino in Vertis North of the Ayalas in Quezon City.

Pagcor, sad to say, can't effectively regulate the operations of these casinos. Visit those casinos along the bay like Solaire, Okada and City of Dreams and the other one in Pasay City, Resorts World. Despite the smoking ban ordered by President Duterte, Pagcor personnel are looking the other way around and ignoring smokers. What gives?


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