By Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The Philippines is banking on a steady stream of foreign high rollers to drive gambling revenue to a record this year even as it braces for greater competition from neighbours who want to cash in on the casino boom, the head of the state gaming regulator said on Tuesday.
Gross gaming revenue of the casino industry, which includes the local units of Macau's Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd and Japan's Universal Entertainment Corp, is expected to reach 217 billion pesos ($4.1 billion) this year, up 8.5 percent from a year earlier, Andrea Domingo, chairman, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor), told Reuters.
"All the integrated casino resorts are doing very well," Domingo added. Gross gaming revenue jumped 13 percent to a record of roughly 200 billion pesos in 2018.
The Philippines is one of Asia's fastest-growing gambling markets and its integrated casino-resorts have helped create jobs and generate tax and tourism revenue. It also benefits from bans on gambling in many Southeast Asia nations.
Domingo said she would not rest on her laurels given that other countries in the region now want to get a piece of the gambling pie.
Japan has approved the development of megacasinos, while Cambodia and Vietnam have welcomed investment in the gambling sector.
Domingo said she plans to meet Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is opposed to gambling, and update him on threats faced by the gambling industry and socio-civic projects funded by the casino sector.
The firebrand leader lashed out at the casino business last year, saying there would be no new casinos set up during his presidency.
Last year, Duterte's government shelved Landing International Development Ltd's $1.5 billion integrated casino project in Manila and blocked the plan of Macau's Galaxy Entertainment Group to build a $500 million integrated casino-resort on a holiday island in April.
"The operators are threatened (by the growing competition). However, if you have critical mass (plenty of options) and a safe environment, gamblers will still be there," Domingo explained.
There were nine private casino firms in the Philippines operating 1,580 gaming tables and 9,895 electronic gaming machines, according to government data. Pagcor also operates several casinos totalling 470 tables and 9,679 gaming machines.
($1 = 52.9350 Philippine pesos) (Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)