An opposition politician in the Philippines has filed a Senate resolution calling for hearings into the expanding number of bricks and mortar casinos and of Philippines-based online gambling businesses serving overseas customers, reported multiple local media outlets.
Senator Leila de Lima cited in Senate Resolution No. 953 specific concerns about money laundering, illegal workers – particularly ones from China – and the risk of sexual exploitation of young local women hired to work as scantily-clad table games dealers by gambling services streamed on video over the Internet.
She stated in her resolution, as quoted by the Philippine Star newspaper: “Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s moratorium on new casinos effective January 13, 2018, more casinos are scheduled to open in the coming years which may place the gambling and casino industry at serious risk for market saturation and oversupply.”
Gross income from gaming operations at the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor), that country’s regulator-cum-operator – and which takes a cut of the money earned by licensed private-sector casinos as well as the public sector ones – rose 18.7 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2018, according to data it filed in late October.
Her call for hearings into gaming proliferation came a day after the Senate began looking at the incidence in the Philippines of online gambling operations said to be aimed at Chinese customers outside the country. The upper house of that country’s congress is also said to be studying allegations that there are a large number of ethnic Chinese without the necessary papers to work in the Philippines that are in the country employed by such operations.
Ms de Lima added in her own resolution: “The possibility of money laundering also concerns some industry players as the shroud of Internet anonymity coupled with loose regulatory policies may leave the industry susceptible to fraud and other illicit activities associated with high-stakes gambling.”
Money laundering concerns
In 2016 the Philippines casino industry made world headlines following the theft allegedly by hackers of US$81 million belonging to the Bangladesh central bank – via an account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the United States.
The money was diverted to four accounts at a Rizal Commercial Banking Corp branch in Makati, Metro Manila. The funds were later moved to Philippine casinos, where they mostly disappeared. Of the total that found its way into the Philippine financial system, only approximately US$15 million had been returned to Bangladesh, according to media reports.
In October last year it was reported that Philippine casinos would be required to make all players present an identity document and would also have to keep records of such customers’ gambling activity for at least five years as part of a new regulatory framework on anti-money laundering for the casino sector.
Ms de Lima said in her resolution: “Apart from its purported positive economic impacts, there are nevertheless lingering questions regarding the social costs of the influx and proliferation of integrated casino-entertainment resorts and Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).”
“Note that there are a number of Chinese gambling companies and Chinese gamblers in the country because gambling is illegal in China and is heavily opposed by its communist government,” she further stated.
The senator also claimed that POGOs – 57 are said to be licensed to operate in the country – were often employing Chinese staff.
Local media reported that – at a Senate hearing on Monday into employment of foreigners in the local gambling sector – it was suggested there could be as many as 200,000 to 400,000 Chinese workers in the country involved in online gambling operations.
A total of 1,316 Chinese nationals was arrested in November 2016 over alleged visa irregularities, at a facility linked to Chinese gaming entrepreneur Jack Lam at Clark Freeport Zone on Luzon island.
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DS Kim, Jeremy An and Christine Wang
Analysts at brokerage JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Ltd