Okada Manila beat the government-imposed deadline to open by yearend-2016 last Dec. 30, the 120th death anniversary of Jose Rizal who was a small-time bettor in his younger days. Rizal bought his Dapitan property with his jueteng winnings. I don’t frequent casinos, though.
I had a two-hour interview with Okada Manila owner Kazuo Okada in early December, arranged by prominent Manila lawyer, Manuel “Lolong” Lazaro. Lolong is helping the Japanese billionaire pachinko king open doors to Manila’s gilded society and is representing him in his fight to recover some $260 million allegedly taken without adequate explanation by his former casino partner, the American Steve Wynn of Las Vegas and Macau.
“It is absolutely the most beautiful and one of the biggest casinos in the world,” gushed the gambling tycoon during the interview. He was describing his colossal $2.4-billion gaming and entertainment complex called the Okada Manila Casino by the Manila Bay.
The Japanese pachinko and gaming mogul is investing what he says is more than $2.4 billion to build the ultimate in resort casinos, the ne plus ultra in luxury and big money gaming and entertainment. Okada Manila sprawls on 44 hectares of prime bayside land overlooking the Philippine capital’s awesome bay.
The $2.4 billion is only a start. Okada figures he will eventually invest more than $3 billion in his Philippine enterprise, his first fully integrated casino and resort in the world. He is also looking at other places to invest in resorts and casino. One such place is Palawan. Okada thinks the Philippines is ripe for a tourism boom, especially now that the Chinese market has opened with the Duterte administration’s pivot to Beijing.
If you believe Okada-san, as the most beautiful, Okada Manila will be more glamorous than Monte Carlo, more ritzy than the Ritz Club, more enthralling than the Bellagio, more resort-like than the Ibiza, more luxurious than the Venetian of Macau, and more grand than Wynn Macau. Is there anyone else?
Okada says Okada Manila “will be my greatest achievement. This will be my monument!” “It caps all my inventive track record, all my hard work, all my perseverance, all my dreams,” says the 74-year-old grizzled entrepreneur from Japan.
The dream’s basic premise? “Not exactly to make money but to provide fun and entertainment to people,” says Okada, speaking through an interpreter.
Okada’s $2.4 billion will go into the casino proper, a 993-room five-star hotel with rooms ranging in size from 58 sqms to 1,400-sqm villas, a giant fountain rising up to 100 meters high, an 800-meter-long glass corridor, a four-hectare lake, and a beach club.
The casino is spread on a 41,000-square-meter area that can accommodate up to 500 gaming tables plus up to 3,000 electronic games. The casino is housed on the upper ground level under two hotel tower wings.
There are two basic structures —a glass dome at the front of the property and facing the bay, and an 800-meter-long glass or crystal corridor at the back of the complex.
In effect, “there are two wings in one hotel which are joined by a skybridge, a 9,000-sqm glass dome accommodating the beach club and the night club,” explains Steve Wolstenholme, president and a director of Okada Manila. There will be 24 first-class restaurants. The Café Museum will display 80 pieces of art and sculpture collection of Okada.
The fountain, Steve says, is one of the largest in the world. The fountain is the main feature of the four-hectare man-made lake. It has 739 nozzles and can shoot water up to 100 meters high.
“The crystal corridor will feature all kinds of virtual entertainment possible,” says Okada. It will have hundreds of projectors that can beam all kinds of films and visual delights, from the latest in movies to the most amazing in virtual reality and computer graphics.
Okada says his casino has one feature no other casino in the world will probably have, what he calls responsible gaming. “We will never allow somebody to go bankrupt,” assures Okada-san. “We want guests to continue coming to our property, enjoy it, and not go bankrupt.”
He explains enigmatically: “Guests will not be allowed to spend more than what they should. We have a scheme to monitor their spending. This is a unique concept and is the very first in the world.” “In other casinos, they don’t really care,” Okada says.
Steve projects more than 20,000 guests will visit Okada Manila daily. At least a third of them will play at the casinos. “We want guests to enjoy not exactly to gamble,” explains the Okada Manila president. “What we offer is fun and entertainment.”
Born in 1942 during the Second World War, Okada was orphaned at a young age by the untimely death of his father. He educated himself and learned to make money the hard way—thru hard and dogged work.
He entered engineering vocational school taking advantage of his knack at details and passion for machines.
To support his mother, as a young man, he made a living by repairing jukeboxes and cathode ray tube televisions. He became an electrical engineer.
He could easily fix broken televisions which used to be made with vacuum tubes. So he could repair TV sets using his knowhow and off-the-shelf replacement parts. This enabled him to sell reconditioned TV sets at 100 times it cost him.
Then he went into importing US-made jukeboxes and, using reverse engineering, refashioned them into something more useful and entertaining. So by spending $500 fixing the jukeboxes, he could earn as much as $10,000 per unit. This made him a modest millionaire.
The money he amassed from reconditioning TV sets and being the jukebox king jump-started him into his first real big business—games and pachinko, actually a combination gaming and pinball machines. Gambling is illegal in Japan but pachinko enables players to go around the prohibition because it is supposed to be entertainment.
In fact, that is how Okada defines his next business—fun and entertainment.
In 1969, Okada organized Universal Lease Co. Ltd. now Universal Entertainment Ltd. (UE). It is the mother company of Tiger Resort, Leisure and Entertainment, which owns Okada Manila.