Racism vs Chinese workers prompt some POGO firms to leave PH – Pagcor

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 1) Two to three Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGOs have packed up their operations here to relocate abroad amid alleged racism towards Chinese workers, according to Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation chair Andrea Domingo.

Domingo said the local bias against POGO employees has proved costly, taking away much-needed revenues and jobs for Filipinos.

Napaka-racist. In fact we are losing some business. May mga operators, nag-signify na magsasara na dito at pupunta sa ibang jurisdiction na hindi masyadong racist ang mga tao [It’s very racist. In fact, we are losing some business. There are operators who have signified that they will close down here and transfer to a different jurisdiction where the people aren’t that racist],” Domingo told CNN Philippines when asked if the government actively favors Chinese workers.

Mga tao din ‘yan, nasasaktan din ‘yan kapag masyadong binabasu-basura (kapag) tina-trash natin. [They are people too, they get hurt if we talk trash about them],” Domingo said, adding that some players have chosen to transfer to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and even to some European countries.

The Cambodian government has banned online gambling, while the Philippines has stopped granting new licenses to operators since late 2019 due to various issues on tax payments, security, visa issuances, and rising crimes raised against the sector.

Even China has banned online gambling in its territory, with President Xi Jinping making a personal appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte to ban offshore gaming companies in the Philippines.

READ: China can't dictate closure of online gambling -- envoy

But Domingo explained that of the 120,000 POGO workers in the country, some 31,600 are Filipinos while Chinese nationals form the biggest chunk. She defended the decision to hire more foreigners, saying this is expected as most offshore gaming clients are Chinese, thus the need for more Mandarin-speaking employees to man call centers and frontline operations.

There are 60 licensed POGO firms in the country, of which 52 are operating.

The government allowed POGOs to resume operations at 30 percent capacity starting May 1, subject to requirements, such as testing for all workers for COVID-19 before being cleared to work, the payment of taxes and guarantee fees to the state, and the practice of social distancing in offices. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Jr. said POGOs are considered as business process outsourcing firms, even if they cater to the gambling industry.

Under the new quarantine guidelines, establishments catering to amusement and entertainment are still banned from reopening.

For the money

Domingo went on to classify POGOs as an “essential” sector.

“We need revenues,” she said in the interview, adding that she expects government collections from these companies to hit P500 million monthly by June as these firms resume services.

The Pagcor official said the industry has already contributed some ₱20 billion in the last four years, on top of various types of taxes. She added that the influx of foreign workers added ₱25 billion profits to the real estate sector through leases.

Domingo added that revenues from POGOs could rise to P650 million a month once their operations normalize. Critics of POGO firms, however, have said that there is still some ₱50 billion worth of taxes unremitted by these players.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who wants to permanently block POGOs in the country, said there are too many “social costs” such as the illegal entry of foreigners as well as prostitution and human trafficking that accompanied the surge of foreign nationals working for the industry.

READ: House leader warns POGOs may be linked to drugs, syndicates

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said he’s unsure if these companies will really adhere to strict distancing rules.

“The issue here is trust. How can we expect POGO operators to adhere to our health regulations if they don't adhere to our tax laws, they don't adhere to our immigration laws, they don't adhere to our criminal laws? Reopening POGOs will unduly expose our Filipino workers to infection from the virus,” he said in a statement. “Let's focus our energies eliminating the spread of the virus rather than fighting fires the POGOs will eventually create.”

RELATED: ₱7-B revenues not enough to justify POGO crimes in PH, senators say

However, Domingo said that Pagcor be even stricter in monitoring POGO activities, adding that these companies risk having their licenses canceled if they violate the rules. A group of POGO service providers also assured in a statement that they will follow strict protocols to contain COVID-19.

CNN Philippines' Melissa Luz Lopez and Correspondent Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.