The fire that engulfed the gambling floor of a Manila casino last night – leaving 36 people dead and 54 injured – has all the hallmarks of a robbery that went badly wrong. There’s nothing to even slightly suggest that this was in any way connected with terrorism. That said – given the tense climate the Philippines is under right now – this tragedy should be a massive wake-up call for those in charge of security at places where large numbers of people gather.
The facts as we have them so far are these. A gunman wandered into the second-floor gaming hall of Resorts World Manila in Pasay City, one of the country’s largest casinos, poured gasoline on the tables and set fire to them before stealing US$2.6 million worth of gambling chips from a store room. He then initially attempted to escape via the main complex.
That individual was later found dead in room 510 of the hotel. An apparent suicide, he’d shot himself and lain down on the bed under a petrol-soaked blanket, set fire to it and self-immolated. His backpack containing the gambling chips was founded discarded elsewhere in the hotel.
What we also know is that he was able to get into the hotel with a 2-litre soda bottle of gasoline and a long gun – described by one eyewitness as “a baby Armalite,” a local term for a variation of the M16 assault rifle – which he fired at a TV monitor. There had been no attempt to shoot any of the guests or the staff. This was clearly a tragically bungled heist – and obviously a very badly planned one. The fact that he intended to steal gambling chips emblazoned with the casino’s name – and therefore not currency anywhere else – is enough evidence of that.
The bigger question right now is where was the hotel’s security? Apparently, this man entered the gaming hall via the second-floor car park. Does that mean he could simply walk in? According to the police, CCTV coverage of the parking area is poor and has made it difficult to identify the gunman’s vehicle.
But were there no metal detectors that would certainly pick up a rifle that’s made of steel and a magazine of full metal jacket cartridges? Is there no security check on that level? And anyway, how come staff watching surveillance monitors – they’re everywhere in casinos – and security guards and floor managers didn’t wonder what someone was doing wandering around the gambling hall with a back pack and carrying a 2-litre soda bottle – and a rifle?
Just how was that allowed to happen – particularly in a country that’s becoming increasingly jittery over the threat of terrorism spreading northwards from the southern island of Mindanao where the government has poured in security forces to quell a rebellion that seized the city of Marawi?
If a robber with an assault rifle could just walk into a casino in the heart of Manila, what’s stopping a group of terrorists doing exactly the same? Casinos have to be a prime target for the terror groups – as will be large-theatre concert venues, public sports arenas and shopping malls. The “it-won’t-happen-here” mentality needs to be jettisoned and fast; this is not a time to be gambling with security. It’s time to be beefing it up.
Resorts World Manila (RWM), owned and operated by Travellers International Hotel Group Inc, is a publicly listed joint venture of the Philippines’ Alliance Global Group Inc and Genting Hong Kong Ltd and should be able to afford state-of-the-art security. Last year the company earned revenues of PHP27.7 billion and net profits of PHP3.4 billion.
Travelers International is headed by Andrew Tan, a Chinese-Filipino businessman whose Alliance Global Group, which he founded, is one of the largest companies in the Philippines; among its assets is the MacDonald’s franchise. Tan has an estimated net worth of US$2.5 billion and is listed by Forbes magazine as the country’s 8th richest individual and the world’s 814th.
RWM shares plunged by 7.94% in trading on the Philippine Stock Exchange today.