Gaming regulator suspends acceptance of new POGO applications

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 19 2019 11:11 AM | Updated as of Aug 19 2019 03:48 PM

The Phil-Asian Gaming Expo features offshore games targeting bettors outside the Philippines. Games can be played on desktop or mobile devices. Photos taken at the SMX Convention Center. July 12, 2019. Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - (UPDATE) The Philippines' gaming regulator said Monday it was suspending acceptance of applications for new offshore gambling firms, after China called on Manila to crack down on gambling hubs that illegally employ its nationals.

The Philippine Amusement Gaming Corp will "stop first and look at other concerns that we have not met comfortably" regarding Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations or POGOs, said PAGCOR Chairperson Andrea Domingo.

Domingo last week called for stricter measures in allowing foreign nationals to enter and work in the Philippines.

The regulating body will also weigh the social costs and benefits from POGOs. Domingo said there are currently 58 licensed offshore gaming operators in the country, and 3 more applications are pending consideration.

"At the end of the year, matatapos na namin yung aming assessments. Ayaw namin magkaroon ng problema (We will finish the assessments by the end of the year. We don't want problems). We should be able to come up with a viable and good program," she said.

Part of PAGCOR’s consideration for issuing new licenses in the future is whether the market for offshore gambling is already saturated given China’s threat to crack down on cross-border gambling by its citizens.

“We expect to have a little bit of a problem, because of this crackdown. We have to assure them (markets outside Asia) that here, everything is up and above board," Domingo said.

There are roughly 138,000 Chinese workers in the internet-based POGO business, according to the initial estimate of an inter-agency task force.

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Chinese law bans its citizens from engaging in "any form of gambling" including online and those that are based overseas but cater to Chinese nationals, China's embassy in Manila said earlier this month.
 
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said POGOs near military bases might "shift their activities to spying."

Domingo allayed fears that gambling hubs near military installations, which are run by the Chinese might be used for espionage, calling their location merely “coincidental."

“‘Yung sentro kasi ng gaming industry dito talaga sa Paranaque eh. It just so happened na sa Cavite siya nakahanap ng lugar na pwede niya i-lease, patayuan. I don’t think it was a consideration na malapit sa military facility,” Domingo said, referring to the POGO hub in Cavite, located across the naval base of Sangley point.

(The center of the gaming industry is really in Parañaque. It just so happened that they found a place for lease in Cavite. I don’t think it was a consideration that it's near a military facility.)

PAGCOR has collected almost P4 billion from POGO operations this year while target revenue for 2020 operations is between P9 billion to P10 billion, Domingo said.