Philippine gaming regulator PAGCOR has reiterated his position to keep the country’s POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) industry, while also pledging to clean up the sector, even as the chair of the Senate Committee of Ways and Means aims to take it down.
A statement issued on Thursday reiterated those made by PAGCOR’s Chairman to AGB, noting the benefits that the sector provides, and the group’s dedication to supporting licensed and legal operations.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian submitted a report calling on the President to shut down the POGO industry within three months early this week. The senator, a long-time opponent of POGOs, said that the “POGO experiment” had failed to provide the economic benefits it had promised and instead “created new avenues for crime and corruption, damaging our country’s reputation among diplomatic allies, foreign investors, potential tourists, and even our own countrymen”.
In response to the call, PAGCOR emphasized that “would like to reiterate its firm commitment to uphold the integrity of the gaming industry in the Philippines, including offshore gaming”.
In regards to the recent scandal over the third-party auditor who was found to have faked its way into a contract overseeing POGOs, Global ComRCI, PAGCOR noted that it “is now in the process of engaging a capable and reputable third-party auditor who can independently and accurately conduct verification of the offshore gaming licensees’ gross gaming revenues.
“Further, PAGCOR reassures the public that to maintain the integrity of regulated gaming in the country, the state-run firm will not hesitate to impose appropriate sanctions or penalties to erring licensees or service providers. We will ensure that all revenues from regulated gaming will continue to support the government’s nation-building efforts and uplift the lives of Filipinos”, said the statement.
PAGCOR had been itself handling the auditing functions for POGOs, after the termination of GlobalRCI’s contract, even as it pursued legal ‘administrative, civil and criminal cases’ against the auditor.
POGOs entered the Philippines in 2016 at the start of the term of then-President Rodrigo Duterte and flourished due to loose gaming laws in the country. Such operations catered largely to customers in mainland China, where gambling is banned. At their peak, POGOs hired more than 300,000 Chinese workers.
PAGCOR has issued a public statement in support of its POGO industry in 2023 twice, although PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Alejandro H. Tengco previously said he would have no qualms shutting the industry down if he deemed it necessary.
Among the concerns raised by Senator Gatchalian are that POGOs have failed to provide the economic benefits promised while leading to an increase in crime and damaging the Philippines’ relationship with mainland China.
The justice department, under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., pushed a regulatory operation for POGOs last year that planned to close 175 illegal offshore gambling firms and deport some 40,000 Chinese workers who overstayed their visas.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila also collaborated with Philippine authorities in the deportation of illegal workers and reiterated its stance against gambling.
Chairman Tengco noted that, of the close to 70 POGO operators before the pandemic, there were currently 29 still licensed and in operations, with the official noting that these groups should “band together” and contribute to nation building, rather than be outlawed.
On Tuesday, another Senator, Christopher Go, urged for the executive department to make a thorough study on what would happen if POGOs are banned, noting the tens of thousands of workers who could be displaced. One of the calls by Gatchalian is to assist affected Filipino POGO workers to find alternative jobs, while pushing to cancel work visas and Alien Employment Permits issued to foreign POGO workers and have them deported, notes the nation’s news agency.