Casinos in economic development

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Mike Wootton

Mike Wootton

There appears to be at least 200,000 square meters together with 5,000 or 6,000 new high- quality hotel rooms to accommodate visiting gamblers. The Manila casinos will be generally bigger than most of Macau’s casinos although they will have less than the 9,000 or so slot machines of Macau, but no doubt there are plans to exceed the gaming area of what is currently the world’s biggest gambling location.

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Given that Rule of Law is at best a very spotty sort of concept in the Philippines, and in fact fast getting so spotty it almost ceases to exist, then is a push to develop gambling a very good idea? We had the case a few weeks ago where a Chinese enforcer for casino financial matters was found with a small arsenal including hand grenades and machine guns in the trunk of his car. Gambling in Macau has heavy Triad involvement to the point where people with problems will seek help from the Triads rather than the police.

Perhaps it is because of the “openness” of the Philippines that the casino investors see Manila as the next Macau. Pay off the right people and you can do virtually whatever you want.

Development of casinos and associated hotels and expensive shopping malls provides some work for the construction industry, produces hopefully profit for the developers, creates a few hotel and restaurant-type job opportunities, including adding yet more to the legions of security guards all over the place, consumes local agricultural products and gains possibly quite significant tax income for government. Nearly 50 percent of Macau’s GDP is earned from gambling. It also provides opportunities for organized crime to spread its wings from Macau over to the Philippines and for that which is already here in the Philippines to expand its activities.

So attracting investment in casino development does have some positive economic benefits but it doesn’t add much in the way of skills or technological development and it does have a downside in stimulating criminal activity which tends to go hand in hand with gambling and casinos. Gambling, drugs, prostitution and violence always seem to go hand in hand, or I’ve been watching too many movies.

Far be it from me to get all sanctimonious about gambling, drugs, prostitution and violence but in a place like Metro Manila which has more than its fair share of grinding poverty, are we not tempting fate a bit by encouraging these casinos and their related social ills by putting the glamor and glitter of Las Vegas-style entertainment complexes right where the homeless dressed in rags are living in the street. Obviously these itinerants will have to be moved on and kept well out of sight of the perfumed and pomaded players of blackjack, roulette and baccarat most of whom will play as much money in an hour as the average dispossessed itinerant could ever even imagine seeing in a lifetime.

For the relatively small proportion of Filipinos who would actually cross the threshold of a big resort-style casino, there is a high risk of the whole gambling experience ending in becoming addicted to gambling with the very real prospect of personal bankruptcy or worse being chased by enforcers with trunk loads of armaments of casino gaming area under development in Manila

As investments returns from casino operation tend to be fairly average overall, isn’t it a shame that the government cannot attract more industrial manufacturing and infrastructural investment rather than giant resort casinos, condominiums and shopping malls.

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com

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