With concerns over an increase in money laundering activity through online gaming operations and the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) industry, authorities in the Philippines are looking to step up efforts to curb the activity, as well as cut into illegal online gambling. To help in the process, the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the country’s gaming regulator, is making a sizable grant to the Department of Justice (DOJ). It has already released the first round of financial support to the agency, which will be used by its Office of Cybercrime to run the Cyber Fusion Operations Center. In total, over $200,000 in grant money will be sent to the DOJ by PAGCOR.
From 2017 to 2019, around $276 million in online casino transactions were flagged as “suspicious” by the Philippines’ Anti-Money Laundering Council. The assertion was made yesterday as the council’s executive director, Mel Georgie Racela, appeared in a Senate-led hearing regarding POGO activity. He also pointed out that some of the financial activity could be tied to drug trafficking, fraud and other illicit operations.
In addition, during the same hearing, a representative of the Philippine National Police (PNP) told the Senate that there have been at least 73 casino-related kidnappings over the last three years. Most are linked to loan sharks who hold gamblers for ransom in order to force their families to pay substantially more than was borrowed.
Adding to the growing list of concerning activity tied to online gaming, there have been reports of human trafficking. One example is a Taiwanese expat who previously told the Senate that she was forced to work 24 hours a day and “treated like a slave.”
In light of the damaging claims against the online gaming community, law enforcement agencies in the Philippines are stepping up their efforts to thwart future scandals. PAGCOR has already sent $98,000 to the DOJ as part of its grant initiative, with the money earmarked for the purchase of IT equipment to be used in the Office of Cybercrime’s Operations Center. That facility is designed to be the hub for monitoring and complaint processing for the inter-agency council that has been established to crack down on illegal online gambling.
Once the first tranche is spent, PAGCOR will send another. It isn’t clear how much will be handed over in the second round, but PAGCOR is giving a total of $218,000 to the DOJ. Charito Zamora, who has been tasked with running the Office of Cybercrime, explains, “It will definitely help the council in reinforcing its fight against the rampant proliferation of illegal online gambling. We thank PAGCOR for their all-out support for the creation of the [Operations Center]. It will help all the members of the task force to prevent and suppress cybercrime in the country.”