Macau's Galaxy Entertainment plans up to $500 mln Philippine casino resort

MANILA, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd plans to invest as much as $500 million to build an integrated casino-resort in the Philippines, the company and Manila’s gaming regulator said on Friday.

Galaxy and local partner Leisure and Resorts World Corp are seeking regulatory approval for the $300-$500 million casino project in the central Philippine island of Boracay, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor) President Alfredo Lim told Reuters.

Boracay Island is the Philippines’ top tourist draw, famous for its powdery white sand beach and vibrant nightlife.

“It will further improve our tourism sector. The project is intended for foreigners, junket operators and high-rollers,” Lim said. The integrated casino could start operating three years after the plan’s approval, he said.

Officials of Galaxy and Leisure and Resorts World paid Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte a courtesy call on Wednesday to discuss the plan.

“As you know, China’s relationship with the Philippines has been improving. K Wah Group and Galaxy would like to play a role in the One Belt One Road initiative and we strongly believe the Philippines has great potential and offers attractive opportunities,” Francis Lui, deputy chairman of Galaxy, said in an e-mail.

Galaxy previously said it was exploring opportunities outside of Macau.

The Philippines’ gross gaming revenue from casinos and electronic gaming sites rose 12 percent to 88 billion pesos ($1.7 billion) in the first half versus a year ago, Pagcor data showed, driven by high-rollers from China and South Korea.

The Philippines, which has one of Asia’s most freewheeling gaming industries, targets gross gaming revenue of 155 billion pesos to 160 billion pesos this year.

The growth relies on warmer ties with China. Duterte last year set aside territorial hostility with China, pivoting away from traditional ally the United States.

$1 = 50.5300 Philippine pesos Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Additional reporting by Farah Master in Hong Kong; Editing by Manolo Serapio Jr and Stephen Coates