Roberto Ongpin, the controlling shareholder of gaming parlour operator PhilWeb Corp, said in a letter filed on Friday lunchtime with the Philippine Stock Exchange he was making “one last attempt” to appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte to save PhilWeb as a going concern.
Andrea Domingo, the new head of the country’s regulator, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor), said on August 9 that the regulator would not be renewing the gaming licence of PhilWeb, which offers Internet-delivered casino games via shop outlets.
Entrepreneur Mr Ongpin (pictured) has now offered the incentive of a new drug rehabilitation centre as part of a exchange deal to rescue PhilWeb. Mr Duterte has been calling on drug dealers and users in the Philippines to hand themselves into the police or face the risk of being killed.
Mr Ongpin had on Wednesday proposed donating to Pagcor the majority of his holding in PhilWeb, which he claimed was worth around PHP20 billion (US$431.1 million) .
The businessman said in his Friday letter that – instead of the government effectively writing off the holding by forcing the firm to cease operations – the authorities should keep the business going, then auction it off to help cover the costs of a narcotics rehabilitation centre he was proposing.
He added that the project had already been the subject of a “serious study” by PhilWeb, with a site identified in Atimonan in Quezon Province. He added that a budget had been prepared, and a search for staff already started.
“I am a firm believer in the President’s drive against the drug menace,” wrote Mr Ongpin in his latest plea.
“As he has pointed out, the elimination of drug lords and drug pushers will not succeed unless this is complemented by an effective drug rehabilitation programme,” added the entrepreneur.
PhilWeb has come under the regulatory spotlight since Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte made a number of anti-oligarch and anti-online gambling remarks.
Mr Ongpin’s Wednesday proposal had been to donate a 49-percent stake in PhilWeb to Pagcor, in order to save the jobs of approximately 6,000 people whose livelihoods he said depended on the business.
But on Friday morning, media outlets in the country reported that Ms Domingo had rejected the offer, and that she had cited Mr Duterte’s “opposition to online and on-site electronic gaming because of the social ills and decay they foist on our communities”.
Mr Ongpin added in his Friday letter, addressing Ms Domingo and the Pagcor board: “I hope you will forgive me for this one final attempt at not only saving the livelihood of some 6,000 individuals and their families but also to make effective use of my donation which has now [as of Friday morning media reports] been rejected by Pagcor.”
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"The [Macau] government has a lead in this subject in regards to what should be done after the [gaming] concessions expire. We will be first listening to what the government will say”
Ambrose So Shu Fai
Vice-chairman and chief executive at Macau casino operator SJM Holdings