Stanley Ho to open floating casino? - Saturday 12th of March 2005

Macau gambling magnate Stanley Ho is back and is set to open his floating casino in Manila Bay, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos claimed yesterday.

Marcos said an influential Chinese-Filipino businessman and a former ambassador have been instrumental in lobbying with the Arroyo administration for Ho???s return and for his gambling franchise to operate, though she did not name the businessman or former envoy.

She said that besides dealing directly with Ho, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) is doing business with known Ho associates Lin Wei Cheng and Cheng Yu-tung.

The latter is the owner of the Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila at the corner of Pedro Gil and A. Mabini streets in Ermita, Manila, she said.

With 15,000 square meters of gambling space, the Hyatt casino is easily three times the size of Pagcor???s flagship casino at the Manila Pavilion hotel on United Nations Avenue in Manila.
br>"Cheng is expected to rake in at least $43 million a year, based on the 40-60 split with Pagcor, assuming that it attracts the same magnitude of business as the Manila Pavilion casino," Marcos said. "But the Hyatt operations would be a whole lot bigger."

However, Malaca??ang has disavowed any knowledge of Ho???s reported moves to revive his plans to open the floating casino in Manila Bay.

"That is the first time we???ve heard of it," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said. "We don???t even know if that floating restaurant is still afloat."

He recalled that Ho???s proposed floating casino did not open because it was unpopular.

He also said Pagcor cannot enter into any venture that is not provided for in its charter.

Pagcor spokesman Edward King said Pagcor never had any dealings with Ho, adding that the gaming body has not received any application from Ho to operate a casino in the Philippines.

"We do not have any dealings with Mr. Stanley Ho," King said. "There was no application for casino operation or any floating casino."
br>Under the law, King said, only Pagcor may operate casinos and issue gambling permits. "On (a more) personal basis, what is wrong with Mr. Ho? He is, in fact, a papal awardee and one of the most respected businessmen in Macau."

King also challenged Marcos to identify the former ambassador and businessman who are the sources of her information.

He also challenged Marcos to check with the local government of Pasay City and find out if Ho will indeed be engaged in operating the floating casino.

Marcos said the unnamed former ambassador had called in favors from his links with powerful people in Malaca??ang and the Catholic Church to ensure that Ho???s reentry into the country???s casino operations would be smooth.

The Macau mogul first attempted to operate here during the short-lived Estrada administration, when he had his floating casino towed to dock at Manila Bay near the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) complex from the Hong Kong harbor.

Ho also reportedly invested in BW Resources, a gaming firm controlled by Dante Tan, a friend of ousted President Joseph Estrada.

After the BW Resources stock manipulation scandal rocked the local stock market, Ho hurriedly left the country. Ho is said to have returned to the Philippines before last year???s national and local elections through Clark Field in Pampanga. He is also said to have gambled in casinos with some officials, including an adviser of President Arroyo.
r>Ho used to operate casinos in the Philippines during the time of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, but had to leave the country when Marcos was ousted in 1986.

Cheng and Ho reportedly hold stakes in the privately owned firm STDM, which runs most of the casinos in Macau. Cheng is also a non-executive director of Shun Tak Holdings Ltd., Ho???s listed flagship company in Hong Kong.

His floating casino never opened, but it remains moored in Manila Bay.

Marcos has also asked the House of Representatives to investigate the proliferation of slot machines in Metro Manila and other urban centers.

She said Pagcor is promoting a culture of gambling among the poor as well as among those who can afford to gamble.

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