Philippine gov’t: online gambling relaunch “not on the table”


philippines-online-gambling-relaunchPhilippines -licensed online gambling operators are no closer to relaunching their sites after a government official said there’d been no change in official policy regarding COVID-19.

Earlier this week, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) chair Andrea Domingo asked the government’s Interagency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases for authorization to restart certain ‘high-earning’ gambling options that were locked down last week to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

On Thursday, local media quoted Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles saying Domingo’s proposal to relaunch Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) and land-based VIP gambling rooms was “not on the table.” Nograles said POGOS remain prohibited and the IATF “have not discussed any other alternative whatever.”

Domingo had argued that allowing POGOs and junket-based VIP gambling – including telephone ‘proxy betting’ – to resume operations wouldn’t risk any significant COVID-19 exposure but would allow PAGCOR to regain 50-60% of its revenue capacity, which would in turn help fund the government’s anti-coronavirus efforts.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to publicly comment on Domingo’s proposal, and while earlier this month he claimed the country “need[s] funds coming from POGO operations,” Duterte’s view of POGOs has swung from one extreme to the other over the past few years, so best keep watching this space.

Meanwhile, the tightening of the regulatory screws on POGOs that predated the COVID-19 crisis is threatening to halt Manila’s red-hot office rental market. Forecasts by Colliers International and Cushman & Wakefield consultants that suggested Manila’s office vacancies could surge this year if the situation doesn’t improve.

The South China Morning Post quoted estimates that, if POGOs take up no additional space this year, Manila could see office vacancies rise to 7.6%, a number the Philippine capital hasn’t seen since 2017, up from 4.3% vacancy in 2019.

The POGO industry was the unquestioned engine behind much of Manila’s office construction in recent years, accounting for around 11% of Manila’s total office space. Another 1.14m square meters of office space were expected to be added in 2020 but now questions are arising as to whether supply will outstrip demand if present trends persist.