Whether or not the Philippines will continue to allow “online gaming” – understood to be a reference to so-called Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) licences offering gambling services aimed at overseas players – was a sovereign decision for the country, and not for China to decide.
So said Jose Santa Romana, Philippine ambassador to China, as reported by multiple Philippine media outlets on Thursday.
Last week the Chinese government had urged the Philippines to ban “all online gambling”, referring to it in terms of China’s domestic rules as “criminal” activity. The Philippines has a legalised licensing framework for such business. But earlier this month it announced a pause on issuing new POGO permits, citing concerns about oversight.
But the Philippine ambassador reportedly said on Thursday regarding a possible online gambling ban: “They [China] can’t dictate on us. That’s our sovereign decision. That is where we stand”. His remarks were made in a televised briefing prior to a meeting in Beijing between President Rodrigo Duterte and China’s President Xi Jinping to discuss bilateral relations.
Mr Santa Romana added that there were also concerns that an outright ban would have a negative effect on the Philippine economy.
There had been speculation that Mr Duterte would raise the POGO issue with his Chinese counterpart, although there were no indications at the time this story was published, that the Philippine leader had done so.
Neighbouring Cambodia has said it will not issue any new online licences, and will allow the current ones to expire without further renewal, citing concerns about “foreigners” using such products to cheat people inside and outside that country.
Philippine diplomat Mr Santa Romana noted in his Thursday comments that offering online gambling services aimed offshore was legal within the Philippines, although he was reported to have accepted the idea there had been “too much” growth in the sector and there needed to be some moderation.
In recent weeks the Philippines has been addressing the issue of POGO licensing from two broad perspectives: to address concerns about such operators’ compliance with business reporting and tax liabilities; and to respond to anxieties among some lawmakers and members of the public regarding the number of Chinese nationals reportedly working in the Philippines online sector serving overseas customers.
It was reported earlier this month that there were 58 licensed POGO operators in the country, with three others awaiting licences.
The gross income from regulatory fees from offshore gaming operations realised by the country’s gaming regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor) was just under PHP2.7 billion (US$51.5 million) in the first half of this year, about 7 percent of Pagcor’s total first-half gross income of just under PHP36.6 billion, according to data released earlier this month by the regulator.
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