The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) on Wednesday presented a roadmap to address Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) at a joint Senate hearing.
PAGCOR, in its presentation in front of the Senate Ways and Means and Public Order and Dangerous Drugs committees, said the roadmap intends “to achieve the optimal number of licensees and increase the total POGO income gradually in the next five years, but with a more robust regulatory framework which will eliminate illegal online gambling operations and the social ills associated with it.”
The short-term objective indicated in the roadmap is to strengthen offshore gaming employment license implementation and to intensify inter-agency cooperation by 2022 to 2023. In the medium term, between 2022 and 2025, PAGCOR said it aims to develop more POGO hubs and establish government regulatory offices within those hubs.
The presentation showed that between 2022 and 2027, PAGCOR’s goals include (1) achieve the optimal number of licenses, (2) increase total POGO income, (3) eliminate online illegal gambling operations, and (4) eliminate social ills through proper regulation.
By adopting this roadmap, PAGCOR expects total income from the POGO industry to hit P3.4 billion by 2023; P4.8 billion by 2024; P6.2 billion by 2025; P7.7 billion by 2026; and P10.2 billion by 2027.
Speaking on behalf of PAGCOR, Offshore Gaming and Licensing Department Senior Manager Atty. Renfred Tan stressed that PAGCOR would “improve the coordination with the other government agencies to curb the social costs or social ills that are associated with POGOs.”
However, he noted that PAGCOR believes “that these social ills or social costs stem from illegal operations and not from those that are licensed by PAGCOR.”
Tan added that “it is imperative that we have a mechanism in cooperation with other government agencies to immediately distinguish illegal operations from legal operations.
“In the short term that would be very helpful for the POGO industry to differentiate itself, to show that it is a business that does not come with illegal or social costs that are associated with it. “
Tan cited the need to show the social costs stem from those which are illegal and not from those which are duly licensed by PAGCOR.” He likewise noted that in the roadmap, PAGCOR plans to establish hubs.
For its part, the Philippine National Police said since the Senate started its hearing on POGO in the middle of this year, no other POGO-related crime has been recorded.
In the same hearing, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa asked the Department of Finance (DOF) if their hardline stance against POGOs in the country will change if there are no related crimes in their operations.
But the DOF maintains this has “reputational damage.”
Dela Rosa further stressed that PAGCOR should monitor the operations of POGO and not pass the burden to the PNP.
Sen. Chiz Escudero said the PAGCOR can look for other sources of income if POGOs will be closed. He said the absence of POGOs will boost casinos and other forms of gambling.
But David Leechiu, CEO of Leechiu Property Consultant noted that of all the sectors in the gambling industry, POGOs are the least evil because “they do not allow locals to participate.”
He also underscored it significant amount of employment generated both for foreign and local workers. POGOs allow foreigners to discover the Philippines in a better way, he said.
Leechiu said if POGO will be kicked out of the Philippines, these firms will just look for other countries in Asia. He also said the government might be underestimating the true impact of the POGO sector.
Due to this, he urged the Philippine government to delay any shutdown of the POGO sector due to their significant financial contributions to the country.
Meanwhile, former Finance Secretary Gary Teves recommended a phase out mechanism in case of a shutdown in POGO operations. He also said the government should provide jobs to the 22,000 Filipinos working in the POGO industry.