MANILA -- At least 37 people are dead after a gunman burst into Resorts World Manila, opened fire and torched a portion of the casino around Friday midnight, in what the Philippine police regard as a robbery, and not a terror act.
Metro Manila police director Oscar Albayalde, in a televised briefing, said all victims died due to suffocation, save for the gunman who burned himself to death. Albayalde separately said in local TV interview that there could be more casualties, as authorities conduct search and rescue operations inside the casino.
According to police, the gunman, carrying an assault rifle, broke into the Resorts World Manila from a parking lot entrance, fired at a TV screen, doused a gaming table with gasoline and set it on fire. He then headed to a chamber and stole 113 million pesos ($2.3 million) worth of casino chips, which were later recovered.
"There's a robbery angle," National Police Chief Rolando Dela Rosa told reporters.
Dela Rosa said the gunman then broke into a room at the adjoining Maxims Hotel, located near the airport's Terminal 3 and burned himself alive. He died of his injuries.
"Right now, we can say that this is not an act of terror," Dela Rosa said.
SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks terrorist incidents, sent out a tweet saying the Islamic State group had claimed responsibility for the shooting. But Dela Rosa disputed that, saying, "They can claim whatever they want, and [say] whatever propaganda they would like to say."
Dela Rosa blamed the bloody attack on lapses in Resorts Word Manila's security, speculating that the gunman may have lost money at the casino and went back to recover it. "He is crazy," Dela Rosa said.
The shooting took place against a backdrop of rising tension in the Philippines, as government forces have been battling IS-backed militants in Marawi, on the southern island of Mindanao, for the past 11 days.
The ongoing clash with the IS-aligned Maute terror group, which broke out on May 23, had claimed over 100 lives as of Thursday.
On May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law for 60 days and warned that military rule could be prolonged or imposed nationwide if IS moves onto the main island of Luzon, where the capital is located.
Casino shares slide
On the stock market, shares of Philippine casino operators fell sharply as trading opened in Manila on Friday.
Shares of Travellers International Hotel Group, operator of Resorts World Manila, plummeted by nearly 9% at market open. Bloomberry Resorts, which owns the nearby Solaire casino, was down 1% while Melco Crown Philippines, which runs City of Dreams Manila, fell 3.3%.
Losses were intact as of noon time recesses, with Manila's benchmark index settling 0.55% higher.
The latest incident could add pressure on Travellers, a joint venture between Malaysia's Genting Group and local conglomerate Alliance Global Group, which has faced increasing competition with newer jumbo casinos at an entertainment hub near Manila Bay.