The Philippine gaming regulator has authorised a “partial resumption” of business at locally-based online gaming operators serving overseas customers, according to a press release. The announcement did not give a timetable for such partial return of operations.
But the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor) said the resumption for the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) was being permitted under “stringent conditions” and aimed to help the national government “raise necessary funds to combat the novel coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic”.
On April 24 it had been announced that Metro Manila – including the country’s large-scale casino resorts in Entertainment City – would remain under an extended strict lockdown in relation to the public health alert, until May 15.
As of 4pm on Friday, the country had recorded 8,772 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and 579 deaths from the disease.
Prior to the end of March, Andrea Domingo, chairman and chief executive of Pagcor, had been cited by the BusinessWorld news outlet as calling for reinstatement of three “high-earning” gaming operations – including VIP play – to raise more funds for the government’s efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a March 30 press release, Pagcor said it was losing up to PHP6 billion (US$118.6 million) per month due to gaming business suspension linked to the “enhanced community quarantine” imposed by the country’s government.
On Friday, several local news outlets cited comments by Ms Domingo that suspension of POGO operations had deprived the regulatory agency of as much as PHP600 million in monthly revenue.
Pagcor’s press release that day said revenues annually from POGOs had grown from PHP73.72 million in 2016 to PHP3.12 billion in 2017. That expanded to PHP6.11 billion in 2018; and stood at PHP5.73 billion in 2019.
“In the first quarter of 2020, POGOs already contributed PHP1.80 billion in regulatory fees alone,” stated Pagcor.
The agency said that prior to resumption of operations, POGOs and their service providers would need to: settle any tax liabilities certified by the country’s Bureau of Internal Revenue; settle any regulatory fees, licence fees, performance bonds or penalties due to Pagcor; remit regulatory fees due for April; and comply with safety protocols.
The safety measures included: only 30 percent of the usual workforce being permitted per shift in authorised operating sites; provision of shuttle services for employees from home to workplace; staff body-temperature checks upon arrival at the office; and the practising of social distancing, proper sanitation and disinfection, and wearing of a mask “at all times,” by each worker.
Employees with confirmed Covid-19 infection – as well as anyone suspected of having the illness – will not be allowed to work.
Pagcor added that “vulnerable groups”, including “the sick, [the] immunocompromised, seniors, pregnant women, and those with co-morbidities will not be deployed”.
Ms Domingo was cited in the announcement as saying: “Even with the partial resumption of POGO operations, we will put premium on the safety of their employees, and the gaming industry as a whole.”
The document said 31,556 Filipinos were “directly hired” by the POGO sector.
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