As Duterte Woos China, Philippine Casino Tycoon Gives Thumbs Up

Why Goldman Sachs Is Bullish on Duterte
  • President-elect proposed bilateral meet over South China Sea
  • Bloomberry’s Razon says thawing relations good for business

Known for his foul-mouthed tirades against criminals, Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is taking a more diplomatic approach to China. That’s pleasing the Southeast Asian nation’s biggest casino mogul who relies on high rollers from the mainland.

Enrique Razon, the chairman and founder of Bloomberry Resorts Corp., said a plan by Duterte to hold bilateral talks with Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the president-elect’s description of Xi Jinping as a “great president” should be good for business. Mainland visitors account for about 40 percent of the VIP customers at Bloomberry’s casinos, he said.

“Even if nothing is agreed on during the bilateral talks, it will thaw relations,” Razon told reporters in Manila on Tuesday after the company’s annual general meeting. “I think relations will dramatically improve” and Duterte’s anti-crime approach augurs well, he said.

Duterte, who takes office June 30, told U.S. President Barack Obama that he may break ranks with Washington and enter bilateral talks with China “if there’s no wind to move the sail.” The Chinese ambassador to the Philippines was also among the first people the president-elect met after his May 9 election victory. China’s corruption crackdown has meant that an anticipated increase in visitors to Philippine casinos hasn’t eventuated, said Razon.

‘Good Catalyst’

Bloomberry’s share price jumped as much as 9.6 percent on Tuesday after Razon’s comments, before closing up 4.7. It’s risen 17 percent so far this month, compared with a 4.2 percent gain in the benchmark index. Better relations with China will be a “good catalyst” for Bloomberry and other gaming companies, said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist at BDO Unibank Inc. in Manila.

Travellers International Hotel Group Inc., operator of Resorts World Manila, rose 1.8 percent in its steepest advance in almost a month. Belle Corp. climbed 4 percent and Leisure & Resorts World Corp. advanced 3.2 percent. The two companies are partners in the City of Dreams Manila casino.

Bloomberry is committed to protecting the Philippines’ reputation and that’s why it banned 18 Chinese gamblers and a junket operator that were linked to the $81 million cyber-heist of money from Bangladesh’s central bank, said Razon. The audacious theft put the spotlight on the Southeast Asian nation after it was revealed the money had been routed through a Philippines’ bank and then to local casinos.

“We remain stringent with our financial and security processes” and continue to be vigilant on transactions in our gaming operation, he said. Bloomberry is still doing business with Kim Wong, one of the operators linked to the heist who returned $15 million of the stolen funds, because he “brings business,” said Razon.

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