PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday ordered Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to investigate the proliferation of online gambling operations and called for their closure because the country does not benefit from their operations.
Aguirre told reporters that the President ordered for a more thorough investigation after gambling tycoon Jack Lam, who owns the Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, Pampanga, used the Philippines as a hub for online gambling, where some 1,316 undocumented Chinese workers were recently apprehended by Immigration agents.
“I was given a marching order to investigate the Peza and online gambling… I have talked with [Executive Secretary Salvador] Medialdea and [Special Assistant to the President] Bong [Go], they are now drafting the scope of my authority to investigate online gambling,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre said he would personally oversee the probe.
In his speech during the signing of the 2017 national budget, Duterte said he wants all forms of online gaming closed as the country does not benefit from it.
Duterte said his new order was related to the online gambling operations discovered at the Fontana resort operated by Lam.
“I ordered the arrest of Jack Lam. My grandfather is a Lam. That’s my problem. Maybe they’re cousins,” he said.
At the moment, he said, the government has no way to strictly monitor online gambling.
He cited the weak leadership at the Philippine Export Zone Authority, which deals with online gaming operators that set up in export zones.
“You know, I want them closed because of what they’re doing. I’ll have a white paper written by somebody but I’ll make it public. It’s online in the Philippines; but the betting outside, we have no mechanism against it,” he said.
Duterte had previously vowed to stop the proliferation of online gambling during his administration’s first Cabinet meeting on June 30. Duterte singled out Roberto Ongpin, former chairman of listed gaming technology firm PhilWeb Corp., as among the oligarchs who must be weeded out of the government. Ongpin has since sold controlling stake in the company.
Following the President’s directive, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. decided not to renew the licensing deal with PhilWeb despite last-minute talks.
But in August, the President indicated he had a change of mind, saying he would allow online gaming companies to operate again should they pay taxes correctly and avoid locations near schools and churches.
With Duterte’s latest pronouncement, the future of online gambling is again uncertain, even after state gaming regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. started accepting applications for offshore gaming licenses.
An offshore gaming license may be issued to Philippine- and offshore-based operators in any foreign country, but Philippine-based players are not allowed to gamble, the regulator said.
Offshore gaming licenses are a new source of revenue for Pagcor, since it decided not to renew the licensing deal with PhilWeb Corp. The agreement with PhilWeb involves 286 e-games outlets or internet cafés exclusively dedicated to casino games.