MANILA, Philippines – Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group became front and center in Philippine news after it bagged a provisional gaming license to build an integrated resort and casino in Boracay – just a few days before President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the 6-month closure of the island.
The plan dates back to December 2017 when Galaxy Entertainment chairman and founder Lui Che Woo paid a courtesy call on Duterte to discuss his firm's plan of investing as much as $500 million for a "low-rise, eco-friendly resort development" in Boracay. (READ: FACT CHECK: Clueless about Boracay casino? Duterte discussed it with owners)
Three months after, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) granted Boracay Philippines Resort and Leisure Corporation – the local operating unit of Galaxy Entertainment – a provisional gaming license, allowing it to set up and operate a casino in Boracay. (READ: LIST: Planned developments in Boracay)
"We are very excited about the prospect of investing up to $500 million into a proposed premium quality, low-rise, eco-friendly resort development located in Boracay, the world's premier beach destination. We are pleased to support President Duterte and the Philippine government's initiative for the managed and sustainable development of Boracay," Galaxy Entertainment vice chairman Lui Francis said in a statement.
Galaxy Entertainment's local partner Leisure & Resorts World Corporation has said preparatory work has begun after it bought a 23-hectare land in Barangay Manoc-Manoc, Boracay as the location for its planned resort and casino. According to the firm, construction is seen to start in the next 12 months.
The planned integrated resort and casino in Boracay comes amid the 6-month closure of the island to give way for its cleanup and rehabilitation. (READ: The glaring double standard in Duterte's Boracay shutdown)
Here's what you need to know about the man behind Galaxy Entertainment, Lui Che Woo.
Hong Kong's 3rd richest
Property and gaming magnate Lui is Hong Kong's 3rd richest man, whose fortune ballooned to a high of $22.5 billion, data from Forbes magazine showed.
Lui chairs Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group and property developer K. Wah International Holdings, both traded in Hong Kong.
According to Forbes, his eldest son Francis manages Galaxy Entertainment, while his daughter Paddy and son Alexander focus on K. Wah.
Back in 2015, the 89-year-old Lui donated $1.2 billion to endow his foundation and the Lui Che Woo Prize, an annual tradition he said he will pass on to his children.
Lui is even richer than the Philippines' richest man, Henry Sy Sr, whose net worth is already at $19.4 billion, data from Forbes showed.
But like Sy, Lui rose from a tough beginning. The Guangdong native moved to Hong Kong with his family at 4 years old to escape poverty in the mainland.
At the age of 13, Lui became the breadwinner of his family of 8 through his stint as a stock keeper in a car parts trading company owned by his uncle.
From setting up his own car parts business, Lui has since ventured into property, hotel, and gambling, with his business empire becoming one of Asia's biggest conglomerates.
Support for Belt and Road Initiative
Galaxy Entertainment has set its sights on expanding its footprint globally. With the Philippines' warming ties with China, Lui has chosen Boracay as the destination for his company's planned integrated resort.
His eldest son, Francis, had said that the Boracay casino and resort project "clearly demonstrates Galaxy Entertainment Group's commitment to support China's One Belt, One Road initiative." (READ: Duterte joins Belt and Road talks with 28 other leaders)
The One Belt, One Road initiative aims to link economic circles in East Asia and Europe, connecting China – on land and over water – to partners in Asia, Europe and Africa.
"Further, the expansion of the Caticlan airport makes Boracay a more conveniently accessible destination and enhances Galaxy Entertainment Group's ability to attract more of our affluent customers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau, among others," Francis said in a statement.
In an interview with China Daily, Lui showed support for China's One Belt, One Road initiative, saying it "has diversified the concept of the ancient Silk Road, expanding it from a route to the West to the passage connecting China with the world."
In May 2017, Duterte attended the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing after Chinese President Xi Jinping himself invited him.