For nine years, the leadership of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) was stable and competent. But with the election of a new Philippine president, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the old regime was ousted and a new one installed.
Cristino (Bong) Naguiat, an old friend of the new president, was named chairman and he immediately began to investigate the alleged abuses of the former administration, headed by Efraim Genuino. When several examples were uncovered—like a $60 million condo purchase for PAGCOR employees, who never moved in—Naguiat began to dig deeper. While the investigation isn’t over yet, he’s concentrating on other priorities.
“There are so many,” he laughs. “For example, we are trying to fix all the casinos by improving all the casino facilities, equipment and software. We’re also looking at Entertainment City and how we will manage that, as well as other places in the Philippines for the growth of the casino industry.”
Entertainment City, a patch of land reclaimed from Manila Bay, was designated under the Genuino administration for development of integrated resorts, with the goal of increasing tourism to Manila by building four $1 billion-plus facilities with non-gaming amenities, along with large casinos.
“Before I took office,” he explains, “four contracts were given for four billion-dollar casinos. We’re doing our due diligence because everything about the contracts was open-ended. I want to bring in a couple of other partners, a Chinese group and a Korean company to help us operate.”
Naguiat says the former Clark Air Force Base, about an hour from Manila, and the city of Cebu are being considered for gaming expansion.
Some provinces and cities are objecting to expanded gaming in their regions. Naguiat says PAGCOR would never bring in gaming or even more gaming where it is not welcomed.
“We will always be sensitive to the opinions of a community,” he says. “But in most cases, the opposition doesn’t represent the majority. We still want to work with everyone, and we understand their points.”
Internet gaming came to PAGCOR a few years ago, and Naguiat says he is reviewing the terms of the contract.
“It can be a major source of revenue for the government, so we’re looking into many proposals that would include taking bets from any country where internet gambling is legal,” he says.
Early in his term, Naguiat suggested that perhaps the PAGCOR casinos could be sold to a private operator and PAGCOR would remain as only a regulator. He says this comment has brought a lot of reaction, but it was just a suggestion.
“Everybody’s expecting me to come up with a plan after just three months in office. We’re rushing everything, but the plans for PAGCOR depend on the suggestions of all other industry partners.”
Some see a conflict between PAGCOR’s operating function and its regulatory role. A sale would simplify that conflict, but Naguiat says the transparency promised by President Aquino has already made a difference in business relationships.
“We’re having a lot of talks with casino investors,” he says. “They are very hopeful that the message delivered by the president will include the Philippine gaming industry and the playing field will be level for everyone.”