Philippines Business Zone Blocks New Online Gambling Operations

June 13, 2023
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Fallout from the police raid on a Clark Freeport scam syndicate that freed more than 1,100 enslaved workers has continued with a freeze on new online gambling operators in the zone and the formation of a security advisory body.

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Fallout from the police raid on a Clark Freeport scam syndicate that freed more than 1,100 enslaved workers has continued with a freeze on new online gambling operators in the zone and the formation of a security advisory body.

Philippine gambling regulator PAGCOR announced on Friday (June 9) that it had joined the justice department and various enforcement agencies on the newly created Clark Security Advisory Council, which will assist the Clark Development Corporation (CDC), the zone’s management organ.

The CDC has accepted the council’s initial recommendations to halt licensing applications from new or existing foreign-facing online gambling operators (POGOs), CDC president and CEO Agnes Devanadera said.

Devanadera added that Clark’s involvement in fast-track visa processing for foreign labour is also being reviewed.

“Of course, we’re saying that when you are in the zone, we want to have the ease in doing business, and that’s the reason why we try to process as fast [as possible] all the applications,” she told a press conference.

“But this time we have to learn our lessons that this is being abused, and therefore we’re tightening the ... nozzle.”

PAGCOR assistant vice president for compliance Jessa Fernandez said PAGCOR set a mid-June deadline to complete a raft of changes to POGO policies, a timeframe that was pre-empted by the May 4 raid on the Clark Sun Valley Hub precinct.

The raid led to the rescue of 172 Filipinos and hundreds of workers from Vietnam, China and Indonesia, as well as dozens of victims from other Southeast and East Asian nations. It is the largest bust of an operation involving trafficked labour to date.

Two key changes to the POGO licensee operating manual have been added in response to the raid, ahead of the wider package of reforms, Fernandez said.

Sub-licensing has long been a routine practice in Clark Freeport and among POGOs and support companies, but the Clark raid has ended de facto official acceptance of the practice for POGOs.

“If a licensee or service provider is found to be sub-licensing or allowing other persons or entities to use their licence or accreditation that were given to them by PAGCOR, first they will be subject to a show-cause order and a fine of $50,000,” she said.

“If violations are substantiated, their accreditation or licence shall be immediately cancelled.”

Fernandez added in Tagalog that PAGCOR “did not give this much attention before”.

“But we are now really strict in monitoring so that these activities halt and we do not have companies operating within companies that are merely licensees of PAGCOR and the CDC,” she said, according to a translation by the Rappler media group.

With the cancellation of PAGCOR accreditation for Sun Valley Clark Hub Corp and CGC Technologies, which hosted the Colorful and Leap Group Company scam syndicate, there is only one authorised POGO licensee left in Clark, along with four service providers, according to a PAGCOR statement on Monday.

In late May, PAGCOR issued a $350,000 fine to Oriental Game, a leading online gambling player linked to Filipino gambling mogul Kim Wong, for failing to supervise the operations of Sun Valley Clark Hub Corp, an affiliate, which technically made the compound a “POGO hub”.

The Clark crackdown is the latest in a long series of setbacks for the foreign-facing online gambling industry, which has been heavily damaged by pandemic restrictions, Chinese government threats, regulatory tightening and ongoing calls from a number of senators for the dissolving of the industry altogether.

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