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Packer looks to Philippines casino
Packer looks to Philippines casino

Billionaire James Packer could be looking towards establishing a casino in the Philippines as part of a desire to create a Pan-Asian gambling empire.

Fairfax Media reported Mr Packer, who is chairman of casinos operator Crown, and Lawrence Ho, who is co-chairman of Hong Kong-listed Melco Crown Entertainment, had entered a joint venture with Filipino retail and property tycoon Henry Sy, Jr. to build a $1 billion-plus casino and resort in Manila.

Crown holds a stake of 33 per cent in Melco Crown Entertainment, which operates casinos and resorts in Macau.

A Crown spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on the media report.

Fat Prophets gaming analyst Greg Fraser said it was highly likely that Mr Packer would be looking towards the Philippines, which had been touted for some years as another Asian gaming destination open to development, along with Singapore and, potentially, Japan.

Mr Fraser said the Philippines, which was creating new gambling licences, could become a major gambling destination similar to Macau.

"When you stand back from what he (Mr Packer) is doing, you can see that he is creating a Pan-Asia gambling network where he'll have the ability to cycle his high-value clients through a variety of destinations, and from Australia through the Philippines to Macau," Mr Fraser said.

The only obvious large destination that was not on Mr Packer's map was Singapore, where the gambling licences were already held by other groups.

Mr Fraser said the original intention of Crown's joint venture with Lawrence Ho in Macau was to initially invest in Macau and then to look to further ventures throughout Asia.

This did not mean that Crown would pay any less attention to its casinos in Australia or the potential to expand operations in Australia.

"I think the opposite is likely to happen," Mr Fraser said.

"If the report (in relation to the Philippines) is true, the Philippines joint venture will be done and funded through the Melco Crown vehicle, not through Crown."

Mr Fraser said Mr Packer's interest in rival Australian casinos operator Echo Entertainment Group, which operates The Star casino in Sydney and three casinos in Queensland, was part of the plan to create a network of casinos.

Crown already holds a 10 per cent stake in Echo, and Malaysian gambling group Genting holds a stake of about 9.88 per cent.

Echo confirmed on Wednesday that Genting had applied to the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority for approval to acquire more than 10 per cent voting power in Echo.

Crown has already applied to regulators to lift its stake in Echo beyond 10 per cent.

Echo's constitution restricts a person's voting power to a maximum of 10 per cent unless the written consent of the regulator in NSW and the relevant Queensland minister is obtained.

City Index chief market analyst Peter Esho said the fact that Genting had made the request to lift its holding could indicate that Crown and Genting were not willing to just sit on their current stakes in Echo.

It was uncertain whether Crown and Genting could make a joint play for Echo or whether they would pursue their own paths.

"But it seems like it (Echo) is an important piece of the regional casino puzzle and Genting is here to stay," Mr Esho said.