Gaming tycoons

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - May 3, 2018 - 12:00am

One has a success story to tell -- of making the right bet in unfamiliar territory; the other is at the center of a tragedy that may be likened to a Shakespearean drama.

Enrique ‘EKR’ Razon

 Ports and casino tycoon Enrique Razon is excited about the prospects for the country’s gaming industry.

 He said his Bloomberry Resorts Corp., owner and operator of the Solaire Resort & Casino in Parañaque and Jeju Sun Hotel & Casino in Korea, will see an even better year this year.

 “We’re much stronger this year,” Razon said on Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg live from the Milken Institute Global Conference in California.

 Where is the optimism coming from?

 Razon said the influx of Chinese tourists is really pushing the growth of the gaming industry in the Philippines. Tourists from Korea are also providing additional market.

Because of the steady arrival of tourists from mainland China and Korea, Razon said Bloomberry is making an even bigger investment this year to continuously expand.

Last year, Bloomberry was able to sustain its turnaround, posting a full-year net profit of P6.063 billion, a substantial 161 percent year-on-year increase. This is mainly due to an 81 percent increase in Solaire’s profitability to P6.269 billion and an 82 percent reduction in net losses from its Korea operations to P207 million from P1.137 billion in 2016.

It wasn’t always this good. Bloomberry suffered a net loss for years until 2016 and Razon went as far as opting to sell the Jeju Casino. But Jeju seems to be doing fine now.

Razon, known for his business acumen, has obviously been making the right bets.

He is even unfazed about plans to turn the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) into a business district, saying doing so would not dampen interest from jet-setting junket players because they can easily fly to Solaire even from Clark or other airports in the country. 

Bloomberry will continue to expand in Asia, possibly in Japan, said Razon who knows how to be a global player. His ports business, ICTSI operates 30 ports around the world – from Manila to Madagascar. 

Kazuo Okada

 Another gaming mogul, Japanese pachinko king Kazuo Okada, meanwhile, is betting on the Hong Kong justice system to pave the way for his return to power after his fall from grace last year when his children and wife ousted him from his companies.  

It’s a family feud worthy of a Shakespearean drama and it’s being played out in Hong Kong’s courts, the South China Morning Post (SMCP) said.

Okada, who is now reunited with his daughter Hiromi, is trying to plot his return to power and regain control of his gaming empire.

I wonder what this would mean for Okada Manila which is still facing a lot of uncertainties, including constant staff changes and a multimillion-dollar unpaid loan to lenders including BDO.

According to the grapevine, Okada is already plotting his comeback, starting with plans to regain control of Hong Kong-registered Okada Holdings. Through Okada Holdings, he and his family own 67 percent of Universal Entertainment, according to SCMP.

Universal Entertainment is the parent company of Okada Manila.

It’s logical to assume that once Okada regains control of Okada Holdings, he could change the board of Universal Entertainment, which ousted him, and consequently have the company withdraw all the charges against him.

Daughter Hiromi is trying to regain her nine percent share of Okada Holdings from her brother Tomohiro via a case filed with the Hong Kong courts stopping the transfer of shares to him, according to the article on SCMP.

If Okada gets his daughter’s nine percent share – combined with his share – he would be able to regain control of Okada Holdings.

Hiromi alleges that Tomohiro, who controlled a 43.5 percent stake in Okada Holdings, misled her into handing him her shares, making Tomohiro the majority stakeholder. Because of the transfer of Hiromi’s shares, Tomohiro was then able to remove his father, who holds a 46.4 percent stake in the company, the SCMP reported.

But Hiromi seems to have forgotten that she signed a trust agreement with her brother, which gave him the right to manage her shares, industry sources said.

Whatever comeback Okada is planning may not be easy. 

Universal Entertainment ,in statements on its website, said Okada is still facing several charges in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and South Korea.

The latest case he is facing is from Universal Entertainment, which filed a lawsuit in the State of Nevada against Okada’s Aruze Gaming America and Okada himself for alleged illegal use of patents on gaming machines belonging to Universal Entertainment.

 Industry sources believe Okada’s planned comeback may be detrimental to Universal Entertainment as the business subsidiary’s stock collateral could be foreclosed.

 But Okada is bent on regaining control of his empire with the help of Hiromi. If this happens, Hiromi may be implicated in her father’s alleged crimes, industry sources said. But then again, we never know. We have yet to see how this story will end.

 It’s indeed a Shakespearean drama filled with family feud, betrayal, and lots of money. How the next chapter will unfold in this saga is still anybody’ guess.  

Iris Gonzales’ e-mail address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com

ENRIQUE RAZON GAMING INDUSTRY KAZUO OKADA
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