MANILA, MARCH 22, 2007 (STAR) By Helen Flores - A $10-billion Las Vegas-style gaming and entertainment complex will rise on an 800-hectare reclaimed area on Roxas Boulevard beginning this year, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) said yesterday.

Pagcor chairman and chief executive officer Efraim Genuino said construction of the entertainment complex, to be called "Pagcor City," will be handled mainly by foreign investors.

"Our country will not spend for these developments. We’re just selling a concept," he said.

The project is expected to attract 10 million foreign visitors in five years and generate millions of jobs for Filipinos.

"The Pagcor City will have arcades, malls, hotels, wellness spas, cultural center, sports arena and theme parks, patterned after Macau and Las Vegas," Genuino said at a press briefing on the sideline of a tourism conference called Asia’s GEM (Gaming and Entertainment plus Leisure Expo Manila) at the Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila yesterday.

"Development of big hotels and big entertainment areas is a key to attracting tourists, as a matter of fact our requirement is for the investors to come up with the design or proposal that will attract tourism," Genuino said.

"The reason why we lack tourists is we lack hotels," he said.

Yesterday’s event kicked off the three-day Asia’s GEM 2007, co-presented by Pagcor and the Euro-Asian Cooperation on Gaming.

He said investors from Japan, the United States, South Korea, and some European countries have signified interest in investing in the project, according to Genuino.

One of the biggest casinos in the world, the Loutraki, is expected to set up shop in Pagcor City.

Pagcor City will be developed over a seven-year period in three phases.

Genuino said the first phase of the project, which begins this year, includes the construction of a resort hotel and a theme park. Phase 1 is expected to be completed in two years.

The entertainment complex’s casino will have 1,000 table games and 3,000 slot machines.

"The Asia’s GEM 2007 marks the paradigm shift of Pagcor from gaming to entertainment. For our economy to recover economically, we need tourism. And for us to invite tourists to come here, we need projects like Asia’s GEM to get the support of foreign investors," he said.

"The thrust now is not casino gaming but total entertainment. In the global arena, only 25 percent of the revenues of gaming destinations such as Las Vegas come from actual gambling," Genuino said, adding that some 80 percent of Pagcor City’s revenues is expected to come from foreign visitors.

"Our country stands to gain substantial revenues from this market as casino visitors spend more than general tourists," he said.

"It is important to have the destinations and attractions that would ensure a pleasant stay for casino visitors. Most of them travel with their families and take side trips," Genuino said.

The complex will have a "tropical" area featuring white sand beaches and lagoons, all facing Manila Bay. A Winter Park is also being eyed with large ice skating rinks as well as real snow and skiing facilities.

A Marina complex will feature a walk-through glass tunnel showcasing different marine species in the Asia-Pacific region. A fish port and a seafood restaurant to be patterned after the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco are also being eyed for Pagcor City.

Plans include the construction of a boardwalk to provide convenient public access to a pedestrian promenade lined with specialty restaurants and outdoor cafes. An observation tower envisioned to be the tallest in the world will be erected in the area. Genuino said Nayong Pilipino may also relocate to Pagcor City.

He said Japanese investors are interested in developing retirement homes for the growing Japanese retiree market. "We were able to attract interest from a number of Japanese retirees," Genuino said.

Pagcor is consistently the third biggest income-generating arm of the government. Last year, Pagcor registered revenues of P35 billion compared with only P23 billion in 2005.

Under its charter, Pagcor serves three crucial roles: to regulate and operate all games of chance in the country, generate funds for the government’s infrastructure and socio-civic projects, and boost local tourism.

Led by the southern Chinese enclave of Macau, Asia is witnessing a gambling boom as the region looks to new, glitzy Las Vegas-style casino complexes offering entertainment and exhibition venues to attract more tourists and business travelers. - With Zinnia de la Peña

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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