Okada to pursue casino project in Philippines

Bloomberg

Billionaire Kazuo Okada, accused by Wynn Resorts Ltd. of making improper payments to Philippine gambling regulators, said he will “vigorously” pursue his casino project in the country.

“I intend to vigorously continue my $2 billion investment,” the Japanese businessman said in a statement read to lawmakers in Manila on Monday. “Rest assured that I will be able to prove that all of the accusations are baseless and are lies that have been blown out of proportion.”

The Las Vegas-based casino company has accused Okada of giving more than $110,000 in payments and gifts to Philippines officials, including chief gambling regulator Cristino Naguiat.

Universal Entertainment Corp., where Okada is a chairman and owned a 20 percent stake in Wynn Resorts, said in September it would open a casino and hotel in Manila by December 2013.

Wynn forcibly redeemed Universal’s stake on Feb. 19 and its Macau unit ousted Okada from its board for his “unacceptable conduct” on Friday.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino also ordered a probe and said a Cabinet committee will investigate Naguiat, who allegedly received free hotel accommodations through Okada.

Universal Entertainment is targeting ¥150 billion in sales from the Philippines project in the first year of operations, Okada, 69, said in an interview in September.

Okada’s project is part of the casino and leisure complex being developed by the government-owned Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corp., known as Entertainment City. Okada is one of four developers who won a license to operate and invest in that complex.

“I am deeply remorseful as to how the controversy managed to besmirch this country’s reputation,” Okada said, apologizing for pulling the country into a “personal” controversy between him and Steve Wynn, chairman and chief executive of the U.S. casino operator. The statement was read out by Masahiro Terada, president of Tiger Resorts, Leisure and Entertainment Inc., the Philippine unit of Universal. Okada had vowed to take legal action against the allegations.

The Philippines plans to review the role of PAGCOR as part of its investigation, President Aquino’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, told reporters Monday in Manila. Philippine Amusement is both a casino operator and regulator.

Naguiat last week said he had done “nothing inappropriate” and said the allegations were “outrageous, politically motivated and untrue.” At a congressional hearing Monday, he called himself the victim of “a boardroom war.”

Okada, his associates and companies made three dozen improper payments between May 2008 and June 2011, including one for a four-day stay for Naguiat in the most expensive room at Wynn Resorts Macau, according to a 47-page report commissioned by Wynn.