Yesterday, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) walked back a statement from the country’s president that indicated all online gaming operators would be put out of business with no exceptions. Andrea Domingo said an executive order would soon be issued to settle the matter and that only unlicensed online gaming businesses will be shut down, with all online licenses in the future going through Pagcor.
After signing a budget funding bill on Thursday, December 22, Duterte announced, “I am ordering the closure of all online gaming. All of it. It has no use.”
On the December 24, the Philippine Star reported that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has said that Duterte may have only been referring to online firms that break the law in his Thursday announcement. Aguirre mentioned Jack Lam who was caught with over 1,300 undocumented Chinese workers operating an illegal online betting call center which may have been ‘proxy betting’ for gamblers on the Chinese mainland.
He said that companies complying with Pagcor regulations had nothing to fear, and that he would soon have an executive order from the president appointing Aguirre as the head of a new online task force and defining the agency’s power and authority.
Earlier reports suggested that Duterte was going after the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) for being corrupt and issuing gambling licenses in its economic zones.
“The one who gets appointed to PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority), he gets about P300 billion (about US$6b) selling the umbrella-type of license,” the President said.
PEZA director general Charito Plaza addressed a letter to the president explaining that, “…online gaming or online gambling or any form of gambling operation is not registrable with PEZA and is not allowed by PEZA,” according to reports. Plaza pointed out that Lam was not operating in a zone administered by Peza, but in the Clark Freeport Zone, which is administered by Clark Development Corp. – part of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority.
“We wish to assure the President that his policy of not registering online gaming or online gambling in PEZA will not change and will continue as PEZA is one with the President in his conviction that any form of online gaming or online gambling will not benefit the country and the Filipino people,” said Plaza.
She added, “We have recognized and will continue to recognize that Pagcor has the sole and exclusive authority to grant franchises and regulate gambling operations in the entire country.”
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has reportedly clarified that the president was referring to the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), the regulator that actually licensed Asian-facing online casinos there in the past, prior to Pagcor’s take-over of the revenue stream.
A PhilWeb Corp., spokesman defended their position in the market by stating that none of the eGames outlet games can be accessed from homes or offices and each of the more than 250 outlets, serving up casino games, slots, and sports betting, is directly licensed by Pagcor, and that PhilWeb only provides software to Pagcor for individual entrepreneurs to operate the businesses. PhilWeb lost its licenses in August but expects Pagcor to renew them under new leadership since Duterte singled out former majority owner Roberto Ongpin as an oligarch who must be “destroyed”. Ongpin sold his shares to Gregorio Ma. Araneta III.