Four months after easing up on his planned crackdown on the online gambling industry, Philippines’ firebrand president Rodrigo Duterte has another change of heart.
The president did not elaborate, but Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II told Inquirer.net that “the closure order was meant for all online gambling firms.” eGames operator PhilWeb immediately saw its share price drop 30.25 percent to PHP8.30 (USD0.17) following Duterte’s announcement.
Duterte voiced opposition to the domestic ‘online’ industry shortly after taking office in June, which led to PhilWeb shutting down its 286 Games cafes. At the time, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) CEO Domingo said the “strong and repeated pronouncement of the president” had left the state regulator 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.
Weeks later, PAGCOR announced that it would allow offshore gaming in the country, which, in a way, was “meant to safeguard the welfare of the Filipinos at the same time meet the agency’s revenue targets to help fund the government’s nation-building programs.” In October, PAGCOR issued 35 new licensees to its Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) as part of the initial rollout of Duterte’s newly created gambling regime. PAGCOR’s gambling licenses are valid for one year.
But the president appeared to have another change of mind as the Philippine government continues to hunt down Macau-based gambling tycoon Jack Lam on charges of bribery and economic sabotage. Duterte previously admitted to getting “pissed off” when he learned that Lam bragged about bribing people in the government, “as if everybody is [in his] pocket.”
During his speech, Duterte pointed out that the government has no mechanism to regulate the online gambling industry, saying, “It’s online in the Philippines; but the betting outside, we have no mechanism against it.”
The president specifically called out the “weak leadership” at the Philippine Export Zone Authority (PEZA), which issues licenses to online gambling operators that set up shops in PEZA special economic zones, according to Rappler.
But shutting down the entire online gambling industry in the country would mean a loss of an estimated PHP10 billion (USD200 million) in annual revenues for PAGCOR. There is no word yet if Duterte’s order affects the companies that already have PAGCOR licensees.
We’re following this story for clarity, and will have updates as they become available.