MANILA (UPDATE) - Billionaire Andrew Tan said his company Alliance Global Group Inc (AGI) is ready to proceed with a casino project in Boracay following President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement that gambling will be allowed on the famous resort island.
Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation Chair Andrea Domingo earlier confirmed to media that Duterte had given the go signal for two casino projects in Boracay Island, by AGI and Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group.
Tan said they are ready to push forward with the casino which was previously shelved due to a casino ban on the island ordered by Duterte.
“We will proceed with our casino project in Boracay Newcoast. We already have several hotels there and we are still building more,” Tan said in a statement.
Boracay Newcoast is a project of Megaworld, another Tan company.
The project "will adhere to all government environmental policies," Megaworld said in a separate statement, as it "remains committed to the protection of the environment in the island."
Around 60 percent of the entire 150-hectare estate "is dedicated to green and open spaces", the company said, adding it has been "proactively implementing green initiatives and programs" since the start of its development some 10 years ago.
Tan said his group is “hopeful that the tourism industry in this island will recover fast after the pandemic.”
The casino ban in Boracay came the same year Duterte ordered a 6-month shutdown of the island to clean up the tourist spot.
In reversing the ban, Duterte said the government needed funds following the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Galaxy’s casino proposal was valued at $500 million when it was first rejected by Duterte in 2018. That is equivalent to nearly P25 billion at today’s exchange rate.
Some Boracay residents however are opposing the casinos.
Nenette Aguirre-Graf, who owns a business on the resort island, said Duterte’s statement was “shocking” to them.
“Because after saying that he hates casino, he doesn’t like gambling, it made us all happy. But now, with this new pronouncement, it’s kinda scary because you don’t know what’s gonna happen,” she said.
Graf said Boracay residents are concerned about how the pronouncement will affect the island’s image as a family-friendly destination.
Bishop Jose Corazon Tala-oc of the Diocese of Kalibo said that while he understands the need of the national government to generate funds, he is wondering why Duterte picked Boracay, which is a family destination, including young people.
"Kami'y naniniwala, 'pag may casino na nagha-house ng iba't ibang gambling o sugal, we always see na itong lugar will attract people... Pero, sa mga nangyari sa ibang lugar, after na magkaroon ng interes ang mga tao sa sugal, it becomes a habit for them. Then, later, parang nagandahan, naging bisyo. Pagkatapos ng bisyo, masasabi kong naging addiction na nila," Tala-oc told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo on Tuesday.
(We believe that wherever there are casinos that house different forms of gambling, we always see these places attracting people... In some of these places, gambling became a habit of people after getting interested in it. Then, it becomes a vice, and then, an addiction.)
"'Pag nagkaganun, ito na ang simula ng sabi namin na destruction ng Boracay," he added, describing it as being worse than the island's environmental issues.
(When that happens, Boracay's destruction is looming.)
"Mas delikado pa ito, kasi ang aatakihin nito ay ang puso, ang buhay ng mga tao... Kaya tutol kami," the church leader said.
(This is more dangerous because it's the heart and the lives of people that will be destroyed... That's why we are against casinos.)
Tala-oc said that while the casino project will boost tourism in the beginning, it will later give rise to crimes like theft, illegal drugs and prostitution because of people's addiction to gambling.
He said that As far as he knows, the municipal government of Malay is also against Duterte's pronouncement.
Senate Committee on Tourism Chair Nancy Binay expressed her opposition as well to Duterte's policy.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article said Tan's Megaworld will develop the casino project in Boracay. Megaworld has clarified that it is Tan's other company, AGI, which will be developing the casino.