Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte indicated on Wednesday that he would be willing to permit domestic gambling parlours offering games delivered online, provided operators paid the required taxes and the outlets were not near schools and churches in the Catholic-majority nation.
“I will restore online [gambling] provided taxes are correctly collected and they [outlets] are situated or placed in districts where gambling is allowed, which means to say, not within the church distance or schools,” Mr Duterte (pictured) told a briefing, as quoted by Reuters news agency.
In a televised cabinet meeting following his swearing in on June 30, Mr Duterte had said he planned to stop the proliferation of domestic online gambling and revoke existing licences.
The country’s gaming regulator-cum-operator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor), had revoked a total of 124 operating licences for e-Games parlours since the beginning of July, the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper reported in early August.
Andrea Domingo, the new head of Pagcor, said on August 8 that the regulator would not renew the operating licence of PhilWeb Corp, a major operator of such parlours. Mr Duterte had singled out PhilWeb’s controlling shareholder, Roberto Ongpin, as an example of one of the country’s “oligarchs”, and indicated his hostility to that class of people.
Pagcor’s Ms Domingo had additionally said her organisation planned not to renew the licences of a total of 302 e-Games venues and 324 e-Bingo outlets that cater to local bettors.
Such a policy comes at the expense of public revenue. Reuters reported on Wednesday that the public sector stood to lose approximately PHP10 billion (US$215 million) annually in revenue that would otherwise be provided by parlour operators.
“Pay the correct taxes… Gamble until you die. I do not really care,” Mr Duterte is reported to have said on Wednesday, as quoted by Reuters.
On August 19, several Philippine media outlets had quoted Ms Domingo saying that Mr Duterte’s opposition to domestic online gambling stemmed from concerns about the “social ills and decay” such activity created in the “more economically vulnerable portion of our population”.
Reuters reported on Tuesday – citing further comments made by Ms Domingo – that Pagcor wished to raise fresh funds by issuing online gaming licences for services that targeted overseas players.
Until now, most licences issued by the Philippines for overseas online gambling businesses have originated from the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (known as CEZA), an economic development area in the northeast of the country’s main island.
As part of the fallout from Pagcor’s decision not to renew PhilWeb’s domestic operating licence, the latter company said – in a letter filed with the Philippine Stock Exchange on Wednesday – that it was willing to revive a plan to operate an SMS-based sales platform for the country’s licensed lotteries. PhilWeb president Dennis Valdes said the scheme could produce annual revenues of between PHP50 billion and PHP100 billion, and that this could serve to “supplement government income”.
It would also be a way of ensuring the business survival of the company without the need to recommence the gaming parlour operation, said Mr Valdes.
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Singapore's Minister for Home Affairs and Law