Philippines-licensed online gambling operators may not escape President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-gambling purge, according to the local gaming regulator.
On Thursday, Reuters quoted Andrea Domingo, the recently appointed head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR), saying her agency was looking into the activities of the special freeport zones that license Asian-facing online gambling companies.
Duterte was sworn into office on June 30, announcing the same day that “online gambling must stop” due to its potential harms on local residents. Duterte’s missive led to this week’s announcement by gaming technology provider PhilWeb that it was shutting down its 286 eGames cafes after PAGCOR declined to renew PhilWeb’s license.
Domingo told Reuters that the “strong and repeated pronouncement of the president” had left PAGCOR with “no choice” but to scrap PhilWeb’s license, despite the resulting thousands of redundancies and the tens of millions of dollars in eGames revenue that the state-run PAGCOR will have to forego.
Domingo’s most recent comments will cause even more uncertainty for the international online gambling sites licensed by the First Cagayan Leisure and Resort Corp under the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA). Joe Pisano, CEO of the Manila-based Jade Entertainment and Gaming Technologies, expressed the cautious sentiments of many of his ilk by saying it was “business as normal for now.”
By law, CEZA-licensed sites cannot accept wagers from Philippine residents, which should theoretically exempt them from Duterte’s drive to convince locals to work for a living rather than gamble. But an unidentified former PAGCOR exec told Reuters it was unclear “what [Duterte] really wants and what the endgame is.”
Meanwhile, PhilWeb shares gained nearly 50% on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) on Thursday. On Wednesday, PhilWeb was granted a temporary halt in trading after seeing its shares lose four-fifths of their value since Duterte’s original comments. The PSE said it had lifted the trading moratorium after “careful consideration of information disclosed by the company.”
The shares closed at P6.37 on Thursday after closing at just P4.25 before the trading halt. Bottom feeders apparently decided to take a chance that PAGCOR might issue PhilWeb a new license if former chairman (and Duterte enemy) Roberto Ongpin follows through on his promise to auction off his majority stake in the company.