The Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group is to host on Friday a summit to address a reported spike in that country in casino-related kidnapping incidents. Most are said to be linked to loan-sharking activities.
The event – to take place in Quezon City – is to be attended by representatives from a number of government bodies, including casino regulator the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp, reported the state-controlled Philippine News Agency.
Other expected participants include security heads from licensed casino operators in the Philippines, and representatives from trade groups representing Chinese interests in the country.
The event will include workshops and debates related to the reported rise of kidnapping incidents linked to the casino sector and to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) sector, the Philippine News Agency reported.
The media outlet quoted police Anti-Kidnapping Group head Jonnel Estomo as saying Friday’s summit aimed to help in drafting what he termed an action plan to combat such a type of crime.
POGOs are said to have been expanding aggressively in the Philippines: in August, there were 58 licensed such operators in the country, and three others awaiting licences. Authorities in that nation say they are attempting to reign in the expansion of the sector and trying better to regulate such operators, including taking stock of the the number of foreign workers employed in the sector. Pagcor announced in August it had stopped accepting applications for POGO licences.
Bloomberg reported in July that the Philippine government estimated that 138,000 people, mostly Chinese nationals, were engaged in the POGO industry, with some of them working illegally in the country. Chinese workers are needed to support POGO operations in the Philippines because the sector reportedly deals mainly with Chinese gamblers and so requires proficiency in Mandarin.
With POGOs attracting more foreigners to the Philippines, some criminal syndicates have been also expanding their loan-sharking activities in and around casinos, many targeting Chinese gamblers, say the police. This has led to an increase in the Philippines in the number of cases of kidnapping related to gambling debt.
Since 2017, the local police have recorded more than 60 cases of casino-related kidnappings; at least 28 of the alleged incidents were this year. Local authorities have since 2017 arrested more than 110 Chinese nationals suspected of kidnapping offences, according to data from the force.
Pagcor vowed in late August to boost casino surveillance and enable information sharing among operators to curb loan sharking-related kidnappings. In a statement quoted by Philippines media at the time, the regulator said it would introduce facial recognition cameras and increase security personnel at casinos.
The measures were announced after the regulator held a meeting with licensed casino operators and representatives of the Bureau of Immigration and the Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group.
The Manila Bulletin newspaper in August reported the deployment of at least two special teams of the Anti-Kidnapping Group to combat casino-related kidnappings in the country’s capital Manila.
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Kenneth Fong, Lok Kan Chan and Rebecca Law
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