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Monday, February 26, 2024

Auspicious start for Tengco-led Pagcor

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Tengco is well equipped to push the envelope and pursue other reforms like the privatization of land-based casinos and other assets

Everything’s coming up roses for the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, the state-run gaming operator and regulator.

Barely a year and a half into office as Pagcor chairman and CEO, lawyer Alejandro H. Tengco appears to be reaping the early benefits of reforms he has instituted at the gaming agency.

Consider these developments:

  • Pagcor achieved a record-setting gross gaming revenue of P285.27 billion in 2023, or 11.22 percent more than the previous high of P256.49 billion in 2019, just before the 2020 COVID pandemic that sent the GGR falling steeply to its lowest at P98.79 billion;
  • The country’s integrated resorts remained as the biggest contributors to the gaming industry’s revenue with P207.48-billion haul in 2023;
  • The fast-rising Electronic Games sector (e-casino, e-bingo, sports and other specialty games) kicked in P58.16 billion;
  • Pagcor-operated casinos under the Casino Filipino brand contributed P19.62 billion.

Tengco, a true-blue Atenean, released these figures mid-January with a note saying “the 2023 results exceeded even our most optimistic projections, and it proves beyond doubt that the Philippine gaming industry has fully recovered and is now poised for sustained growth in the medium- to long-term.”

For 2024, the industry’s gross revenue projection of P336.38 billion appears to be more achievable, especially with the scheduled opening of new integrated resorts this year, according to the Pagcor chief.

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I’ve been saying all along, without any doubt, that Tengco is the right man for the job despite the criticisms over his handling of reforms early in his tenure.

After raising the minimum gaming fee in the casinos from P200 to P1,000, he is now betting on the e-games sector to spark a renewed boom in the industry, fueled by the much-bruited about “revenge spending” of Asian high-rollers.

The phenomenal growth of this sector is also expected to linger as a result of Tengco-initiated changes in the gaming industry.

At the same time, Tengco may implement other reforms like increasing license fees as additional revenue booster.

This way, Pagcor beneficiaries like charity organizations and even local government units can continue to count on Pagcor for much-needed donations.

A risk-taker, Tengco wants to re-brand the controversy-hit POGO and preserve the 70,000 Filipino workers under its employ, a plan that shows not only his business acumen but also his own social consciousness, a genuine concern for the workers’ welfare.

And if Tengco has his way, POGO henceforth will be called “International Gaming Licensees” because its old name just got too controversial that no one will dare to touch like a hot potato.

But first, Tengco will have to contend with Congress many of whose members now have turned “POGO-phobic,” and will avoid association with anything offshore gaming.

Tengco has not given up on his bid to make Pagcor the gold standard in Asian gaming.

This plan has come out in my previous piece late last year.

“We certainly know our potentials and capability to become the gold standard in the Asian gaming scene,” I wrote in my column then.

I repeat: This isn’t an empty boast, given Pagcor’s mandate to transform itself into a purely regulator role once its privatization takes full effect by 2025.

Pagcor is well positioned to be the regulator since it knows the “ins and outs” of the trade it is regulating, with its over four decades of experience in the gaming business.

With a highly competent management team assisting him and adequate resources at his disposal, Tengco is well equipped to push the envelope and pursue further reforms like the privatization of land-based casinos and other assets.

My unsolicited advice: Tengco has to shed some of the excess fat off the burgeoning Pagcor bureaucracy.

He has to ensure that all his plans and other reforms are carried out before Pagcor morphs into a singular role. As a regulator, Tengco and Pagcor should adopt better safeguards and impose stricter controls to address the social ills that unintentionally go with gaming operations.

An idiomatic expression — let the chips fall where they may– sounds appropriate to this case.

(The author is a writer and publisher of coffee-table books. He is also the president and executive director of the Million Trees Foundation Inc, a non-government outfit advocating tree planting and watershed protection.)

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