Priests lead resistance to Boracay casino plan

Chinese firm is looking to build mega gambling resort on Philippine holiday island
Priests lead resistance to Boracay casino plan

The spectacular sunsets of Boracay Island in the central Philippines have become an attraction for many tourists from around the world. (Photo by Maria Tan)


Catholic priests are leading the resistance to a plan to build a "mega casino" on the central Philippine island of Boracay, one of the Philippines' top tourist attractions.

A Chinese company, Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd., announced this week that it plans to develop a world-class beach resort and casino on Boracay Island.

Officials of the company and its local partner, Leisure and Resorts World Corp., met President Rodrigo Duterte last week to discuss the project.

Galaxy is reportedly planning to invest up to US$500 million in the project.

Father Cesar Echegaray, a former parish priest on the island, said Kalibo Diocese has always been opposed to any form of gambling on the island.

"I have been telling local government officials that if they allow one investor [to come in], it would be hard for them to refuse any future plans," said the priest.

Local authorities in the town of Malay have allowed a casino to operate with the condition that it would be limited to only one establishment.

Father Jose Tudd Belandres of the Most Holy Rosary Parish, said church leaders in the province have been consistent in campaigning to make Boracay a family destination.

"A wholesome family destination and gambling will never be a good combination," said the priest.

Vicky Aguirre, an island resident, said she cannot imagine what the proposed mega casino complex will look like.

"I only have headaches thinking about it," she said, adding that she is worried about the future of Boracay.

The approach by the Chinese company comes amid warming ties between China and the Philippines following the election of Duterte last year.

"[We are] excited about the possibility ... to develop a world class beach resort for our players in Boracay," said Galaxy vice chairman Francis Lui Yiu Tung in a statement.

Tung said his company is interested in exploring the great potential and attractive business opportunities in the Philippines.

In 2011, Galaxy opened a 550,000 square meter resort with Las Vegas-style facilities in Macau.

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The Philippines, which has one of Asia’s most freewheeling gaming industries, targets gross gaming revenue of US$3.2 billion this year.

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