Online gambling call center in Manila raided by immigration

philippine-online-gambling-raidOnline gambling in the Philippines is back in the news following a raid on a call center in Manila. Acting on a tip, Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials descended on a three-story office building in Makati on Wednesday, arresting 73 foreigners from over eight countries for lacking valid work visas.

The GMA Network quoted BI Intel Division Chief Jose Carlitos Licas saying the operation in question belonged to a company called Super 7 Ventures. The BI’s anonymous informant – who was compensated for his tip through the BI’s incentive program – accused the company of operating a real-money online gambling site disguised as a call center on behalf of a “syndicate.” It should be noted that the BI has yet to indicate that the raided site was anything more than a call center.

None of the foreigners had a valid work permit; most were in the country on tourist visas. The foreigners hailed primarily from regional nations, including China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and Australia, but also an unidentified number from America. All of them will be deported following verification of their identities.

The only English-language reference to Super 7 Ventures on the internet involves a logo design competition that concluded ironically enough on Tuesday. Super 7’s brief to designers described itself as a “new” company but the LinkedIn profile of a web developer says he started working at Super 7 in May 2013.

Super 7 is believed to have been providing services for, whose parent company OLÉ Group International Ltd. holds a license issued by the First Cagayan Leisure and Resort Corporation. The Ole777 website currently features a “Website Maintenance” notice, saying it would be offline from Jan. 28 to Jan. 30 at 6pm local time.

The Philippines has a thriving business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, but Ole777 and any other companies to whom Super 7 was supplying services are clearly pan-Asian and thus required a multitude of language options. Super 7 may have thought they were saving money in the short-term by not hiring multilingual Filipino workers but their decision will have long-term consequences from the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA).

Clearly, if the evidence submitted by the BI is accurate, then Super 7 broke the law and the authorities had a duty to act. Previous raids on online gambling call centers in Manila have not always been so justifiable. It’s probably telling that GMA camera crews were along for the Super 7 raid; in this case, the authorities felt comfortable submitting their actions to increased public scrutiny.

It’s worth noting that Philippine authorities’ interest in the online gambling industry really took off following the antics of Jan Robert Gustafsson, Patrik Selin and their local cohorts. Gustafsson et al knowingly provided false testimony to the police, claiming that Philippine-licensed operators were illegally taking wagers from local residents. The lies were intended to cause trouble for the execs’ former employers, who were prosecuting them for embezzlement and other crimes. While Gustafsson & Co. have since fled the country to evade arrest warrants, the operators who remain in Manila will continue to deal with the fallout for years to come.