State-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) said that apart from the allegation of bribery hounding Universal Entertainment, it must settle a land ownership issue, which Pagcor described as “contentious,” at Entertainment City.
“Pagcor already referred the matter to the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC), which came out with an opinion that the ownership of the land must be remedied since it violates constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership,” the agency said.
The gaming regulator and casino operator said it had advised Kazuo Okada’s group that it could not open its casino until the land ownership issue was resolved.
Pagcor held out hope, however, for the controversial businessman—who made a fortune operating pachinko parlors in Japan—saying Okada “is a major investor in the Philippines.”
“This is the reason why Pagcor is giving [him] a chance to address all the issues affecting their provisional license for the operation of a casino facility in the Entertainment City project,” it said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, who filed a resolution in October to investigate the Las Vegas-style casino project because of constitutional questions, said that even before the $5-million payment allegedly given to Rodolfo Soriano came to light, there were already constitutional questions over the participation of Eagle I Landholdings Inc. (ELI) in the integrated resort casino project.
Soriano was reportedly the bagman of former Ephraim Genuino, the Pagcor chairman during the Arroyo administration.
ELI has a contract of lease with Okada’s Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment Inc. (TRLEI), one of Pagcor’s licensees, for the Entertainment City project. TRLEI would reportedly use ELI’s property to build the complex.
Casiño said a legal opinion from the OGCC stated that ELI was 64-percent foreign owned, which means it is not qualified to own land in the country.
Aruze USA Inc., also owned by Okada, has a 64-percent direct and indirect equity in ELI, according to the OGCC.
The OGCC also said in its legal opinion that the situation must be remedied, with Pagcor exercising its regulatory mandate and TRLEI being informed and made to comply with legal requirements.
It said the correction of ELI’s ownership structure could be Pagcor’s precondition before issuing the notice to commence casino operations.
Casiño wondered whether ELI and TRLEI should be allowed to correct the situation.
“If that is allowed, then any Tom, Dick and Harry can enter into an irregular contract with the government and when the anomaly is discovered, they can just say that they will correct it. If the contract is void from the start, let’s void it and start from the top,” he said.
He also said Pagcor could suspend the Entertainment City project in the meantime, or at least hold the parts where Okada is involved.
No place in admin
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) urged President Aquino to cancel the provisional license awarded to Okada’s firm involved the entertainment complex, which some critics dub “sin city.”
Bayan said such a questionable deal should have no place in the Aquino administration’s so-called “daang matuwid” (straight path) leadership.