'Parang eskinita lang siya’: PAGCOR’s road map for POGO industry draws flak

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 23) — The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) on Wednesday presented to a Senate committee an ambitious five-year roadmap for the Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO) industry but failed to provide concrete details on how to accomplish its goals.

Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman Senator Sherwin Gatchalian expressed dismay at PAGCOR officials for submitting a four-page roadmap for the POGO industry, saying it looked like a map for an alleyway.

“In my entire life, this is the shortest roadmap na nakita ko. In fact hindi siya road, parang eskinita lang siya [it’s not a road, it’s an alley] because it’s only four pages. I would assume this was only crafted because we requested it, tama? Or was this crafted long before we requested it?” Gatchalian said.

“It’s a work in progress, your honor,” replied Renfred Tan, senior manager of PAGCOR's Offshore Gaming Licensing Department.

PAGCOR’s five-year roadmap for the POGO industry sets a gradual increase in revenue targets from POGOs from ₱2.4 billion in 2022 to ₱10.2 billion by 2027. To achieve this, PAGCOR said inter-agency cooperation should be intensified in the short term to crack down on illegal POGOs.

In the medium term, PAGCOR suggested the creation of more POGO hubs where operators can be closely monitored by regulators.

PAGCOR said its long-term goal is to achieve the optimal number of POGO licensees, as well as get rid of social ills linked with the industry. The regulator said this will allow the government to collect bigger taxes from legitimate POGO operators.

However, PAGCOR officials were unable to cite data when Gatchalian asked them how much of the global POGO market share the Philippines aims to capture, or how much the gross gaming revenues come from POGOs globally.

PAGCOR said it also lacks a study on how China’s policies on offshore gaming could impact revenue projections from POGOs.

Any form of gambling — including gambling overseas or online — is prohibited under Chinese law.

“In ASEAN, you plan to take 100% of the market share because we’re the only ones allowing it. But globally, are we the only ones allowing it also?” Gatchalian asked.

“No, Mr. Chair. There are other countries that allow offshore gaming operations. However, we don’t have comparative data on how much,” Tan of PAGCOR said.

Gatchalian stressed that PAGCOR, as the country's gaming regulator, should have information on global POGO industries.

“This is toilet paper to be honest. Without all of those data, we don’t understand the industry. You plan to increase revenues to ₱10 billion but you don’t know where to get it. Hindi niyo alam ilan ba ang POGO sa mundo. [You don't know how many POGOs there are in the world],” the senator stressed.

AMLC warns of POGO risks

An official of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) warned POGOs are vulnerable to money laundering and terrorism financing due to the high level of cash-based transactions and bettors’ anonymity.

“Like what I mentioned a while ago, karamihan ng transactions nila [most of their transactions] from 2013 to 2019 based on the study are cash. Magtataka kayo bakit cash pero ang kanyang [You’ll wonder why cash but the] business model is online,” AMLC Executive Director Matthew David said during the hearing before the Senate.

“Hence, this shows a weak or deficient anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing risk... Yung mga nagbe-bet, hindi natin kilala [We don't know those who bet],” David added.

In its study, AMLC revealed around ₱14 billion in suspicious transactions involving online casinos between 2013 and 2019.

It also recorded 1,031 suspicious transaction reports (STRs) filed by banks and other financial institutions on internet-based casinos and their service providers during the seven-year period.