"We do need the money, but this country can and must do better."
Two offshore gaming companies have left the country and more are expected to follow suit, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) said over the weekend.
In a statement, PAGCOR chair and chief executive Andrea Domingo confirmed that Suncity, a unit of Macau’s gambling giant Suncity Group and the leading casino junket operator in Asia, has left the country over “tax issues” with the government.
She also warned that more are leaving the Philippines, which she said will hurt not only government revenues but also the more than 30,000 Filipinos working for the online gambling companies.
PAGCOR Assistant Vice-President for the Offshore Gaming and Licensing Department Jose S. Tria, Jr. said 13 POGO service providers have already closed shop, mostly because of stringent tax rules.
“There are other jurisdictions that have opened up offering better tax rates and [a] friendlier environment. Some [POGOs] also can no longer take the criticisms they get each day that make them feel unwelcome in our country,” the PAGCOR official said, alluding to questions being raised about the large-scale hiring of Chinese nationals as opposed to local workers, and a rise in crime and other social ills associated with the hugger-mugger of the industry.
A PAGCOR primer sought to address the criticism of the industry, but opposition to the online gambling companies—which are banned from operating in China—remains strong.
In an interview with CNN, Domingo said racist attitudes toward Chinese POGO workers were endangering the industry and depriving Filipinos of jobs.
“It’s very racist. In fact, we are losing some business. There are operators who have signified that they will close down here and transfer to a different jurisdiction where the people aren’t that racist,” Domingo told CNN Philippines.
She also defended the fact that of the 120,000 POGO workers, only 31,600 are Filipino, saying the companies need Mandarin-speaking employees because most of their online gambling clients are Chinese.
She also said the industry has contributed some P20 billion in the last four years through license payments and various taxes, and pumped some P25 billion into the real estate sector through leases for the tens of thousands of Chinese workers.
But Senate hearings earlier this year reaffirmed the case against POGOS: the limited hiring of Filipinos by gaming operators, the non-payment of taxes, minimal contribution to the domestic economy, the role of organized crime in trafficking workers, corruption in the processing of work permits, the security threat posed by the proliferation of Chinese-dominated gaming centers, and the popular perception that the Duterte administration is promoting POGOs at the expense of other industries. After all, they were allowed to operate even during the COVID-19 lockdown because government officials claimed they provide an “essential service.”
PAGCOR may be barking up the wrong tree when it links the POGO exodus to racist attitudes. Anti-Chinese sentiment, after all, has been building up over Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, and this government’s apparent willingness to bend over backwards to appease Beijing.
Giving favorable treatment to companies that offer greater employment opportunities to foreigners than local workers by a ratio of 3-to-1 simply exacerbates any anti-Chinese sentiment that was largely absent before Beijing’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
A critic of the administration, Senator Leila de Lima, succinctly asks the questions most of us want answered. “Why are these POGOs being recognized and extolled here, and given the status and perks of a legitimate enterprise, when they are outlawed in their country of origin?” she says. “Where is the logic and the morality of it all? This legal and social anomaly is unacceptable.”
If there is indeed an exodus of POGOs, we say good riddance to bad rubbish. We do need the money, but this country can and must do better.