Philippines Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat has warned that neither new nor existing casinos will be allowed to operate in Boracay once the island reopens on 26 October.
According to local media reports, Puyat stated on Tuesday that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the closure of all casinos on the holiday island, which is currently shut down to visitors while officials address serious pollution concerns.
“He (Duterte) has even instructed the Department of Tourism (DOT) to close down the existing casinos in the island. So there will be no casinos at all in Boracay,” Puyat said at a business forum at World Trade Center Metro Manila.
Tourism undersecretary Arturo Boncato Jr later told reporters, “I have to check the existence of casinos there. There are resorts. If there are resorts doing casino operations, we have to ascertain their permits if they are really operating with permits.”
The Department of Tourism’s stance follows a declaration by Duterte in April that he would not allow Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment Group to build a planned US$500 integrated resort in Boracay. Galaxy and its Philippines partner Leisure & Resorts World Corporation (LRWC) had only weeks earlier been granted a provisional gaming license by gaming regulator PAGCOR while LRWC had also purchased a 23-hectare parcel of land for the IR.
However, the DOT’s threats to close down existing casinos remain clouded with Chairman of the House Committee on Games and Amusement, Gus Tambunting, telling the Panay News that such actions were not within the department’s scope.
“I do not believe the Department of Tourism can shut down existing casinos for the simple reason that PAGCOR has primary jurisdiction over all casinos and not the DOT,” he said. “The concerned government agencies must act within their jurisdiction.”
In response, Boncato said he didn’t expect the closure of casinos to be a major concern, stating, “It’s now a policy of the government not to have casino operations in the island once it opens.”
He added that the DOT was focused on MICE rather than gaming as the driver of increased tourism to the Philippines in the future, with better international access at the top of its list.
“We want travel to be seamless. We are working towards that,” he said. “We are really working on new connections to the Philippines, improving our airports, negotiating for more seats in the country, investing in image building and rolling out our campaign.
“We are coordinating with organizations in the Philippines that are connected internationally. They are like national associations that are members of international organizations. We want them to bring in their meetings to the Philippines.
“Services of tour operators, tour guides and very good accommodation, those are the basic things that MICE organizers look for and the Philippines really stands a good chance in bringing success to meetings here.”