The controlling shareholder of Philippines-based PhilWeb Corp says he is ready to donate most of his 53.76-percent stake in the gaming parlour operator to the country’s gaming regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp, also known as Pagcor.
Roberto Ongpin requests in return that PhilWeb have its licence renewed.
PhilWeb began last week winding down its e-Games outlet operation in the Philippines, after state-owned Pagcor decided not to renew the firm’s licence.
“I hereby donate to Pagcor (or sell to Pagcor for PHP1.00 [US$0.02]), 49 percent of [PhilWeb’s shares],” Mr Ongpin wrote in a Wednesday letter to Pagcor’s chief executive, Andrea Domingo. PhilWeb filed the letter with the Philippine Stock Exchange.
“I am of course assuming that if Pagcor would own 49 percent of PhilWeb, it would renew the licence to itself and thus, save the jobs… of about 6,000 employees,” Mr Ongpin stated.
He said he was not offering his full stake in PhilWeb to Pagcor to prevent the gaming parlour operator from becoming a government-owned and -controlled corporation. Mr Ongpin said that would impose several restrictions on the company, “making PhilWeb’s operations untenable”.
Instead, Mr Ongpin would donate the remainder of his stake in PhilWeb to a university scholarship fund previously established by him.
PhilWeb’s boss noted that Pagcor – besides being the country’s gaming regulator – was also a gaming operator, running several casinos across the Philippines. “There is no reason which would prevent Pagcor from being the largest shareholder of PhilWeb,” he stated.
Mr Ongpin noted in his letter that his offer to Pagcor came with “no strings attached”. The latter would be able to retain the stake in the gaming parlour operator or sell it – either partially or in full.
Mr Ongpin stated his offer to Pagcor was a “final attempt to save the jobs of about 700 PhilWeb employees, plus about 5,000 others” who are employed by the 286 e-Games sites in which PhilWeb has operations. He added that these people were all out of work since August 10, when PhilWeb’s licence expired.
“I would also like to avoid a scenario where about 131 operators [business partners of PhilWeb] who have invested an estimated total of PHP1.8 billion in their e-Games operations are suddenly deprived of their business and their investments go up in smoke,” he added.
Mr Ongpin had announced last week he would sell his entire 53.76-percent stake in PhilWeb via an open and public bidding process in an effort to salvage the business. In his Wednesday letter to Pagcor, he stated he had received five proposals for his holding. “However, due to the reports in the media that under no circumstances will the PhilWeb licence be renewed, I have decided that it is not appropriate, nor fair to the bidders, for me to award my shares to any of the bidders,” Mr Ongpin wrote.
The bidding process was contingent on PhilWeb having its licence renewed.
PhilWeb has come under the regulatory spotlight since Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte made a number of anti-oligarch and anti-online gambling remarks.
Mr Duterte had singled out Mr Ongpin, a former trade minister, as one of the country’s “monster” oligarchs. He accused Mr Ongpin of currying favour with previous presidents and using his influence to boost his businesses.
Mr Ongpin and his daughter Anna Bettina Ongpin have since both resigned from PhilWeb.
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