House leader warns POGOs may be linked to drugs, syndicates

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 22) — A House leader warned that Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) may actually be linked to illegal drugs and organized crime syndicates.

Citing investigative reports and a UN study, House Dangerous Drugs committee chair Robert Ace Barbers said similar gaming operations in Macau and Cambodia were run by the Italian mafia and drug syndicates for their money laundering operations.

However, Barbers admitted that proving this link between POGOs and organized crime would need a “deep, profound and perhaps long and tedious” probe.

Barbers added he has received reports that 46 of 58 POGOs registered with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) are unregistered local or foreign corporations.

Para silang jeepney o bus na kolorum operators – ‘yung mga bumibiyahe sa isang partikular na ruta pero walang prankisa mula sa LTO. These kolorum or ‘ghost’ POGOs operate in the Philippines but they are not registered in our country as a business entity,” he said.

He urged authorities to scrutinize and investigate these POGOs.

Lawmakers have filed a resolution seeking a congressional probe into the POGO industry, saying POGOs appear to be violating local immigration and labor laws.

PAGCOR has started shutting down POGOs that refuse to pay taxes, following an order from the Finance department.

POGOs are known to have recruited many Chinese nationals, thousands of whom are said to be working in the country illegally — without proper documentation and without paying the correct taxes. The government has since made it a requirement for foreigners to first secure a Tax Identification Number from the Bureau of Internal Revenue before being granted a working visa here.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to stop POGO operations entirely during their bilateral meeting last month in Beijing, noting that gambling is illegal in China. Malacañang said Duterte will "most likely" study the implications of a total ban on these online gaming hubs.