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Philippine gaming regulator to probe physical takeover of Manila casino

MANILA :Philippine gaming authorities said on Wednesday they are looking at an incident where representatives of a Japanese casino billionaire entered a Manila casino to take physical control of the premises from its operator.

The Philippines' Supreme Court in April ruled that Kazuo Okada could once again lead the Okada Manila integrated casino-resort as CEO of its operator Tiger Resorts, a position he was ousted from in 2017 on suspicion of misappropriating US$3 million.

But Tiger Resorts - owned by Japan-based Universal Entertainment Inc - has appealed against the Supreme Court ruling. Okada was also ousted from Universal's board in 2017, with directors accusing him of misappropriating US$20 million in funds, which he denied.

The gaming regulator's board meeting on Wednesday discussed among other matters the casino takeover and ensuring its continuous operations, Alfredo Lim, the agency's president, told Reuters.

"Our only concern in this corporate squabble between contending stockholders is that the operation is not disturbed," Lim said. While the transition was seen as smooth, the regulator is still awaiting a full report from its staff, he said.

Estrella Elamparo, legal counsel for Tiger Resorts, said the May 31 takeover was "illegal and violent", alleging that Okada's team had taken "by force the physical premises".

A video shared by Tiger Resorts with local broadcaster ANC showed physical skirmishes and verbal confrontation as guards and police escorted casino personnel out of a dark meeting room at the premises.

In a statement, Okada said he "continues to seek justice in order for him to regain his position as the rightful head of Universal Entertainment Inc".

Okada said he hoped to vindicate himself from what he described as underhanded treatment by "rogue employees" at Universal.

The 44-hectare (108 acres) Okada Manila, located beside the Manila Bay, features 993 suites and villas, 500 table games and 3,000 electronic gaming machines. It is among the four multi-billion dollar casino-resorts operating in the Philippine capital.

Okada Manila went public in the United States in 2021 through blank-check firm 26 Capital Acquisition in a US$2.5 billion deal.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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