President of Philippines Fiercely Rallying against Gambling Sector

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President Duterte has been in power in the Philippines for the last couple of years, and he seems more committed than ever to put rein in the gambling sector in the country.

Gambling in the Philippines

The Philippines has long embraced gambling. The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) oversees the sector in the country and other agencies are tasked with individual aspects of gambling.

PAGCOR is important in ensuring that gambling revenues are kept above board and that the tourism industry is well catered to in this regard.

PAGCOR has been around since 1976 and its reach has expanded gradually through the years. With tourism from China on the increase, the country has been trying to expand its gambling offerings to compete with other gambling destinations in the region, such as Singapore and Macau.

Casino gambling is very popular in the country. More than 20 casinos are in operation, and more are in the works, including some major resort casinos.

Most of this action is contained within Entertainment City in Manila. The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office looks after the state lottery and horse race betting is also a popular pursuit. Cockfighting is legal and is very popular, along with a variety of street games.

Online gambling is illegal, and President Duterte has talked about shutting it down if the companies do not have the relevant licenses from PAGCOR.

A lot of companies get PAGCOR online gambling licenses because it makes it easier for them to tap into other markets in Asia that otherwise would be difficult to navigate. For example, 35 licenses were issued to offshore operators in 2016.

There is an application fee of $50,000 (£38,000) for online casinos and a $40,000 (£30,000) fee for those who want to offer sports betting. Upon approval, there is another license fee for $200,000 (£152,000) and $150,000 (£114,000), respectively.

President Duterte fighting back

While the gambling industry is very lucrative for the country, President Duterte is trying to exert a lot more influence and to clamp down significantly on some of its aspects.

There have been numerous incidents over the past few years, with the latest one involving a major resort casino development on one of the islands. This came in the form of a moratorium that effectively banned new resort casinos being built in the Philippines.

This meant that PAGCOR could no longer issue licenses. The moratorium came into effect in January 2018, and only applications that had been sent in before January 13 were eligible for consideration.

Licenses were subsequently approved for two casinos, but Duterte announced that they would in fact not be able to go ahead with their plans. One of these resort casinos was being built by Galaxy Entertainment Group and was expected to attract more than $50m (£38m) in investments for the resort on Boracay Island. This is a very popular destination for tourists.

After the release of an environmental report on the island showing that local businesses had damaged the area, President Duterte announced that no casino would be allowed on the island. The company had purchased 23 hectares of land before the ban took effect.

Another resort casino to be built in Manila by Landing International Development would have seen $1.5bn (£1.14bn) invested, but it also has been stopped. Ground was broken on August 7, but shortly afterward, President Duterte said that it would not be going ahead.

Part of the site was a section of the Nayong Pilipino Cultural Park that had been leased to the planned casino resort. However, officials said this lease agreement was flawed and proposed canceling the entire project.

The outcome of these two projects is still completely up in the air at the moment. It doesn’t look as if President Duterte will back down and this might not be the end of restrictive gambling policies being introduced in the region.

Some experts believe that online gambling licenses could be further curtailed and that the gambling sector in the country could suffer as a result.