MANILA (Reuters) – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has lifted a moratorium on casino operations in the country’s top holiday island to generate taxes for its COVID-19 pandemic response, the presidential spokesperson said on Saturday.
The firebrand leader has had a longstanding opposition to gambling, halting the construction of new casinos in the Philippines, one of Asia’s fastest-growing gambling markets before the pandemic.
“The president has given his go signal allowing the operation of a casino in Boracay,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
Casino operations in Boracay, the Philippines’ top tourist draw, should follow coronavirus restrictions and keep children away from gambling activities, Roque said. He did not say if the lifting of the moratorium would be temporary or permanent.
Strict and lengthy coronavirus lockdowns last year battered the Philippine economy and hit tax revenues.
No casinos currently operate in the 10-square-kilometre (4-sq-mile) Boracay island, famed for its powdery white sands, turquoise waters and lively night life.
The move augurs well for provisional casino license holders like the Philippines’ Alliance Global Group Inc, and the partnership of Leisure & Resorts World Corp and Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment Group.
In 2018, Duterte rejected Galaxy’s plan to build a $500 million integrated casino resort in Boracay.
Alliance Global will proceed with its casino project in Boracay where it has several hotels and a golf course, company chairman Andrew Tan said in a statement on Saturday. “We are very hopeful that the tourism industry in this island will recover fast after the pandemic.”
Galaxy can start its operations focusing on foreign gamblers, Alfredo Lim, president of the gaming regulator, told Reuters.
Galaxy and Leisure & Resorts World did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside office hours on Saturday.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Christina Fincher)