The Jumbo: Resto or casino? - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

Despite an official statement from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) that it has no deal whatsoever with Macau gambling kingpin Stanley Ho to open or operate a casino in Manila, rumors persist that Ho is behind the soon-to-open floating Jumbo restaurant anchored just off the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Roxas Boulevard.

The Jumbo floating restaurant, now called the Jumbo Kingdom, is in the final stages of repair and renovation. While no date has yet been set for opening, the restaurant reportedly already has bookings for banquets in May and June.

The four levels of the Jumbo are encased in glass, with large dining areas as well as private rooms. The exteriors feature intricate carvings of dragons and other Chinese symbols. The interiors are fitted with crystal chandeliers, furnishings including Chinese cabinets, screens, lamps and other objets d???art, and flat-screen plasma television sets in the function rooms. The top level is reportedly a hall for ballroom dancing. The kitchen, a separate structure at the rear connected to the Jumbo by steel gangplanks, also has four levels.

Jumbo Kingdom restaurant is owned Legend Dragon Inc. (LDI), which chartered the boat from Golden Carousel Co. of Hong Kong.

The Jumbo was initially brought to Manila Bay from Hong Kong in 2000 during the term of deposed President Joseph Estrada when Ho, reputed owner of the boat, and Hong Kong investors partnered with Estrada crony Dante Tan. The Manila Jumbo Palace, as it was then called, was inaugurated that year with a lavish banquet, despite it not having secured all the necessary environmental clearances and permits to operate the restaurant in the bay. When Estrada was ousted in January 2001, Tan fled the country, leaving behind unpaid bills with suppliers and contractors who had done work and provided services and supplies for the floating restaurant. In addition, investors??? monies ??? reportedly in the million of dollars ??? were not accounted for.

"The investors suffered a double whammy," a source close to the venture told The STAR on condition of anonymity. "Not only did they lose their investment, the creditors came after them."

Tan is still in hiding, reportedly in New Zealand, despite a recent legal victory when the Pasig regional trial court last January dismissed one of the stock manipulation charges against him. However, there are still 10 pending cases against Tan and several other people in connection with alleged price rigging of shares of Tan???s BW Resources Corp. in 1999.

The Jumbo Palace restaurant ceased operations and the boat was shuttered. A typhoon subsequently caused the boat???s kitchen, a structure attached to the rear of the boat, to partially collapse into the bay. It had remained an eyesore in an area popular with promenaders.

Recently, fears were raised anew by legislators and segments of the public that the boat would reopen as a floating casino operated by Ho.

When contacted by The Star for comment on these allegations, Jumbo Kingdom general manager Joman Chan and public relations officer Tess Lualhati declined to comment or answer any questions, except to say that they are a new corporation and have nothing to do with the former owners and operators of the Jumbo, then known as the Manila Jumbo Palace restaurant.

The Star has learned that Legend Dragon, represented by its corporate secretary Manuel Cosico, has signed a three-year agreement with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) for use of the roads in the complex leading up to the restaurant. The agreement took effect last Feb. 1, and will end on January 31, 2008, subject to renewal.

The contract with the CCP is explicit in stating that the boat will be used solely for the purpose of operating as a first class floating Chinese restaurant, and "not for any other purpose/s such as operation of gambling activities," even if LDI should get a franchise or license to operate a casino.

The contract further allows the CCP to deny access to the boat and even have it towed away if management determines that the restaurant is being used for gambling or other illegal activities.

But apprehensions persist that the floating restaurant will simply be a cover for casino operations, and such questions can only be answered when the Jumbo Kingdom opens its doors and welcomes the public in to see for themselves that it is indeed a first-class Chinese restaurant and not a gambling palace.

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