The Philippines’ former main online gambling licensing body has lost nearly half its licensees since the government assumed greater oversight of the industry last year.
This week, Francis Hernando, chief operating officer of Philippine gaming operator Leisure and Resorts World Corp (LRWC), told the Philippine Star that the company’s First Cagayan Leisure and Resort Corp offshoot had lost nearly half its online gambling licensees since the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) rolled out its Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) program last year.
Hernando said First Cagayan’s pre-POGO roster of online licensees was 138 last year but this number has since fallen to less than 80. “We lost about 60. Those 60 transferred to POGO.” The rush for the exits appears to be gaining speed, as LRWC reported in May that there were still around 100 First Cagayan licensees in operation.
In January, Hernando issued letters to First Cagayan’s online licensees, pleading with them not to return their licenses and promising to invest up to $7m upgrading the notoriously insufficient infrastructure in the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport. These pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears, although Hernando claimed a “Macau-based gaming company” planned to commence operations in the Freeport by October.
With First Cagayan’s online business fading fast, the rush is on to boost alternate sources of revenue. LRWC chairman Reynaldo Bantung said the company hopes to open 20 additional eBingo retail operations by the end of 2017, joining the 186 venues it currently operates.
LRWC’s upgrade of the Cagayan Economic Zone also includes developing the Cagayan North International Airport so that it can accommodate the jets of junket operators bringing in VIPs to gamble in the Economic Zone’s brick-and-mortar casinos.
While PAGCOR’s POGO program has benefited from First Cagayan’s woes, online gambling generated revenue of $21.7m for PAGCOR in the first half of 2017, a drop in the bucket compared to the state-owned gaming regulator/operator’s overall revenue of nearly $559m during that span. PAGCOR has projected that POGO revenue could eventually top $120m per year once the program is fully up to speed.