Manila (Philippines) – AFP (Joel GUINTO)
A new mega-casino opened in the Philippines Monday as the fast-growing southeast Asian nation ups its bid to become a world gaming destination.
Manila aims to rival Macau and Las Vegas in terms of gaming revenues, and the ‘City of Dreams’ is the latest in a string of casinos that have opened in recent years.
The new casino is an imposing structure on Manila Bay with six gleaming golden towers surrounding a giant egg-shaped dome, and industry and government leaders hope that it will attract cashed-up tourists from other parts of Asia.
The casino is a joint venture between the country’s richest man Henry Sy, Australian billionaire James Packer and Lawrence Ho, son of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho.
“The goal is to find the best (sites) in Asia… The Philippines is one of the fastest growing economies anywhere in the world. We’ve seen the market really pick up,” Ho told reporters.
Ho also acknowledged the huge cost of building the resort. The Philippine government requires a minimum $1 billion investment for new casinos built in the area.
Packer said jokingly that the resort was inspired by Hollywood movies “Casino” and “Oceans Eleven”, and Robert de Niro, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have appeared on giant billboards and TV commercials to promote the casino.
The 6.2-hectare (15-acre) complex is the second of four mega resorts to open on reclaimed portions of the bay, just a few hundred meters from the city’s slum communities.
The City of Dreams’ golden dome, called the “Fortune Egg”, houses two exclusive nightclubs, including Pangaea, where Picasso copies hang beside pictures of safari animals on walls covered in fake snakeskin.
Monday’s glittering opening for City of Dreams is to be capped off with a concert by American music stars Ne-Yo and Kelly Rowland.
The Philippines economy grew at more than six percent in 2014 for the third straight year, prompting economic planning secretary Arsenio Balisacan to comment that the country has shaken off its reputation as the “sick man” of Asia.