Sy-led Belle looking for new operator of planned $350-M casino

by Neil Jerome C. Morales, BusinessWorld

Posted at Oct 18 2010 09:36 AM | Updated as of Oct 18 2010 08:38 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Belle Corp., the high-end leisure developer and gaming firm controlled by the family of mall and banking tycoon Henry Sy, sees no delays in the start of operations of a planned $350-million casino two years from now.

This was despite a setback in negotiations with entertainment giant Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc., an executive said.

“The target [opening] is still first quarter of 2012,” Manuel A. Gana, executive vice-president and chief financial officer of Belle, told reporters late last week.

Mr. Gana said the company would likely pick a new casino operator next month, adding that partner Leisure and Resorts World Corp. was in talks with several potential partners.

Last year, Belle took charge of the gaming component of the Sy-led SM conglomerate’s proposed $1-billion leisure complex at the 120-hectare Bagong Nayong Pilipino.

Mr. Gana said the structure would be completed next year. Leisure and Resorts World will bring in equipment like slot machines. The $350-million casino is expected to be the largest in the country.

Phase one of construction includes a casino and VIP suites with 100 units. About 500 hotels rooms will then be built.

The casino will also have 250 tables and 1,500 slot machines.

“Leisure and Resorts World is our operating partner but [it] still [has] to look for other [partners],” Mr. Gana said. “We certainly would need help in running the operations of the casinos -- how to manage cash and how to make sure there will be enough cash for people who want to play,” he added.

Listed Leisure and Resorts World, which earlier announced discussions with casino operators in Macau and Singapore, specializes in VIP services.

Mr. Gana said the details of the hotel, theater and other structures that will be part of the $1-billion, 25-year SM venture have yet to be finalized.

Mr. Gana said the firm’s third-quarter profits were expected to have grown from last year. “We will outperform last year, I think,” he said.

Consolidated net income of the company jumped by 148% to P301.2 million in the third quarter last year. Profits of Belle went up by 15% to P181.3 million in the first half.

Shares in Belle fell P0.02 to close at P2.38 each on Friday.