Thunderbird affirmed casino rejected by Baguio prospers in La Union

The casino war here may have been won by the city government, which had opposed its operation. However, Cheryl Ann Ruiz Arnold, corporate communications officer of Thunderbird Resorts, said 60 percent of customers of their casino in nearby San Fernando City in La Union come from Baguio.

The casino attracts from 1,000 to 2,000 patrons daily, said Arnold. Thunderbird is the same company that wanted to open a casino in Baguio five years ago but the thunder against it was stronger here. Arnold said they are not planning to revive their campaign in Baguio within the next two to three years and are satisfied with their operations at the Poro Point Freeport.

Instead, Baguio residents drive for an hour to La Union to play in the casino. Baguio Mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr. was among those who opposed the casino plan by Thunderbird. The proposed casino was supposed to have been built at Camp John Hay.

Bautista said the city still has no reason to approve the plan. The city council has been opposing proposals to establish a casino in Baguio in the past 10 years. Thunderbird had signed a lease contract in 2006 with the Bases Conversion Development Authority for a 65-hectare resort at Poro Point, a former American naval base.

The firm’s operation was approved by the La Union government despite opposition from religious groups that were ignored in the course of approving the casino. Thunderbird complements the other casino in the region, the Fort Ilocandia Resort and Casino in Laoag City, which caters mostly to Taiwanese tourists.

The Panama-based Thunderbird has plunked USD 13 million in its Poro Point resort since 2006 and will invest another USD 16 million for the second phase including the establishment of a golf course, said Arnold. She said the firm also contributed PHP 55 million in January to the San Fernando Airport upgrading project.

The airport’s rehabilitation is being undertaken to accommodate international flights from East Asia, Arnold said.