Philippine online gambling, VIP casino restart could aid virus fight


philippines-restart-online-gambling-vip-casino-coronavirus-fundsThe Philippines’ gambling regulator wants permission to resume online gambling and VIP casino operations to help fund the government’s anti-coronavirus fight.

This weekend, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) chair Andrea Domingo asked the government’s Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases to authorize her to lift the suspensions of several “high-earning” gambling operations that were imposed in response to the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

These include the PAGCOR-licensed Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) who were instructed last week to suspend all operations after initially receiving permission to carry on provided staff could work from home. Domingo compared POGOs to business process outsourcing (BPO) operations that have been permitted to continue operating on a work-from-home basis.

Domingo also wants to see the resumption of VIP casino activity, whether on an in-person basis or via telephone (proxy betting). PAGCOR ordered all casinos to suspend operations on March 15 but Domingo says VIP operations can exist within ‘social distancing’ protocols given that high-roller tables usually accommodate only one or two players at a time.

Should the government allow these operations to restart, Domingo expressed confidence that PAGCOR could regain 50-60% of its pre-shutdown revenue capacity, money that would help aid efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 impact.

PAGCOR said Monday that it was releasing P12b in cash dividends to the government to help fund anti-virus efforts. The sum is nearly 45% higher than the 50% of annual dividends PAGCOR is required to remit to the government, reflecting the urgency with which the regulatory body views the current crisis.

The local gaming industry has also signalled its willingness to help the government fight the pandemic. Domingo said Sunday that POGOs had donated P150m (US$2.93m) toward the COVID-19 campaign, while land-based casinos in Manila’s Entertainment City gaming zone have pledged an additional P200m in cash and other goods.

Those efforts haven’t satisfied some gambling sector critics, including Rep. Robert Barbers, who called the POGOs’ P150m donation “a miniscule part of the taxes they owed to the Philippine government.” Barbers urged PAGCOR and the Bureau of Internal Revenue to “compel” POGOs to pay what he claimed was P50b ($976m) in unpaid taxes, while warning that the government shouldn’t be “fooled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”