Congressman Tambunting: House is split 50/50 on gaming

Philippine Congressman Gus Tambunting says the House is equally divided in regards to gaming support, in particular of online. Meanwhile, the sale of Casino Filipino venues is proof of how seriously the nation is taking its gaming, with current laws unlikely to change under future administrations. The official also says that the gaming regulator, PAGCOR, “needs more teeth” in order to properly enforce regulations.

We’re joined today by the honorable Congressman Gus Tambunting. Thank you for being with us.

Thank you very much for having me, Kelsey.

There’s a lot which is happening within the gaming sphere right now and within the political side of that. So, I wanted to ask you, what role should politics play in shaping gaming legislation?

Well, we are basically a policymaking body. And we also have oversight. It is our intent that we have to strengthen the regulator of this country, to make sure that the impact of the gaming industry is felt. A strong regulator means more effective governance. And that is something that we are looking at.

Even the privatization of government-run casinos is now being seriously talked about. And we’re looking at the possibility of privatizing the government-owned and controlled casinos, so that it can be efficiently managed by the private sector. Let’s leave it to the experts.

Fair enough. Regarding online, though, that has been something which has been highly debated, especially regarding the POGOs, which now have now been rebranded to IGLs. Do you think that the growth of the online gaming industry here in the Philippines has been healthy so far? And do you expect it to improve going forward?

Well, I understand that in the previous years, they’ve registered a couple of billions, PHP7 billion worth of revenue. And now they’re down to 50 licenses, but they’re doing at least PHP5 billion. So, we can see the revenue generated from this. On the revenue side? Yes. Of course, there’s still so much to be started as far as the peace and order situation is concerned, the social issues that go with it. Those are things that have to be managed. And again, that’s where the regulator, and the LGU (Local Government Unit) should work together to make sure that we have a very effective operation in the Philippines.

Now, the word POGO kind of became a bit of a bad word, at least within the house. Do you think that the rebranding of POGOs to IGLs has affected at all the sentiment within the house towards the offshore gaming operators?

No, I think it’s the same.

But do you picture that there’s going to be less problems now that they have cut down that number?

Yeah, hopefully, we’re praying on it.

I want to throw you a bit of a side question. Don’t hate me for this one. Do you think that gambling is entertainment?

Good, good question. I think it depends on the age of the player. If you have somebody who still has a family to feed, and they’re there to make a buck, then winning or losing won’t be entertainment to them. But at a certain age, for the senior citizens, those who are 60 years old and above, they’re made. They usually say: “I go to the casino just for recreation, not really to win”. So, I think that will really depend on the age and the intention of the player. What is he there for?

Very true. But the Philippines, especially within Asia, has been lauded so many times for its openness towards gaming, the various types of gaming activities, sports betting online, etc. Do you think that that might change in the future or with future administrations?

I don’t think it will change in the near future. As a matter of fact, that move to privatize it is already a sign that we are serious. We would like the Philippines to become an international destination. And if this is so, and if my thesis is correct, then therefore you can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. We need consistency. We need clarity, transparency. And I don’t think it will change.

In regards to enforcement, should that fall solely on PAGCOR? Like we’ve seen within the POGO raids, for example, a lot of that involves the police. Does that enforcement activity have to rely on PAGCOR or should it also rope in more?

We have to give more teeth to PAGCOR, but the enforcement arm really is the PNP (Philippine National Police) and the LGUs – the local government units. So, they’re also empowered to police the ranks and to police the gaming operation under their city or municipality. So, it’s a concerted effort of all agencies to make sure it’s peaceful and effective. And people would like to engage in it because it’s safe.

Exactly. But as a part of that, you mentioned that PAGCOR needs to get more teeth. Is there a push within the House to try and give them that?

Yes, well, there are issues like giving them police power, because right now they have to coordinate. They can’t really do it themselves.

But is that happening?

Well, like I said, there are proposals. Let’s see how they’re going to vote on it. I cannot guarantee. It can go either way.

Within the House itself, if you could give a percentage of those which are in favor of online gaming, or gaming in general, and those who are not in favor, what would you say? Is it a 50/50 split? More 70/20?

More or less, yeah, let’s put it that way. It’s 50/50. That will be the safest answer.

All right. Well, I really appreciate your time. Thank you for being with us.

Thank you very much.

Congressman Gus Tambunting.

Thank you very much.

Really appreciate it.

Thank you.