The Philippines-based online gaming industry held its breath on Thursday after the country’s new president said “online gambling must stop.”
Newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte (pictured) made the surprise announcement at his first cabinet meeting following the official swearing-in ceremony earlier on Thursday. The meeting was televised and is viewable here (the gambling talk begins around 14:20).
Duterte said that he didn’t want “a proliferation of gambling activities all over the country” and complained that too many Filipinos were choosing to gamble instead of working for a living. He went on to say something about the difficulty of collecting taxes from online gambling operators, despite vast evidence to the contrary.
Duterte then dropped his real bombshell, saying that he would ask the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to rescind the online gambling licenses it has issued “sometime soon.”
Duterte’s plans appear to have taken PAGCOR by surprise, as a spokesperson told GMA News that the corporation couldn’t comment because they had “just learned about it now.”
Duterte’s lack of specifics have left stakeholders wondering what he meant by ‘online.’ The only online gambling licenses PAGCOR has issued are for the terminal-type eGames run by the likes of PhilWeb and Leisure & Resorts World Corp.
Philippine locals are not allowed to access the many Asian-facing online gambling sites licensed by the First Cagayan Leisure and Resort Corp under the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA). These companies include many industry giants, both homegrown Asian firms and the local divisions of western betting operators.
Since much of Duterte’s commentary focused on lessening the potential harms of online gambling on Philippine citizens, his vow to stop online gambling would seemingly let the CEZA licensees off the hook.
A Duterte spokesperson appeared to confirm this suspicion early on Friday. Ernesto Abella told CalvinAyre.com’s Leonard Postrado that Duterte had no clear policy on gaming. Pressed for clarification as to whether the president’s comments referred to CEZA-linked companies, Abella said Duterte was referencing local internet gaming shops.
But CEZA companies shouldn’t exhale just yet. On Friday, newly appointed PAGCOR chairperson Andrea Domingo appeared on a local radio show, during which she told host Ted Fallon that, while PAGCOR was still pushing for clarity on Duterte’s comments, she suggested he was referring to CEZA.
CEZA-linked companies have established deep roots in the Philippines, particularly in its thriving business process outsourcing sector. It seems crazy to think that Duterte would seek to derail an industry that has contributed so much to his country’s economy over the last decade. But crazier things have happened. Watch this space…