Philippine gambling regulator PAGCOR has confirmed that the proposed online expansion of its Casino Filipino branches will target domestic and foreign markets, potentially increasing the franchise’s value ahead of any privatisation.
PAGCOR chairman and CEO Alejandro Tengco said on Thursday (July 20) that amid aggressive recovery from pandemic damage to the gambling sector, the dual regulator-operator will create its own online gaming space to provide “a more complete and convenient gaming experience for all”.
“To further excite the playing field, we intend to launch our own online gaming operations in the first quarter of 2024. It will be called ‘casinofilipino.com’ and that will definitely be launched by then,” Tengco said in a keynote speech at the SiGMA Asia expo in Manila.
Tengco had mentioned nascent PAGCOR online operations during a speech at G2E Asia in Macau on July 13, but his speech on home turf today fleshed out groundbreaking detail, including becoming a competitor to both foreign-facing operators (POGOs) and domestic-facing interests.
Casinofilipino.com will “employ virtual reality-based technology, which can stimulate [sic] the sights and sounds of a physical casino, thereby offering a realistic and immersive gaming experience for all our customers".
“Moreover, it allows players to interact with the digital counterparts of traditional casino games,” he said.
Tengco said the online operation will target global markets, likely becoming the nation’s first regulated product to accept foreign and local customers. Presently, PAGCOR strictly segregates foreign-facing and domestic-facing operations.
“The online Casino Filipino transcends physical boundaries and enables users from around the world to interact and participate in virtual environments. Thus, it can reach a global audience and can establish a presence in virtual communities of avid gamers,” he said.
“It likewise offers an opportunity to tap into new markets and diversify its customer base.”
Tengco said the benefits of PAGCOR’s move into commercial online gaming include “increased revenue, extended reach and market expansion, cost efficiency, and enhanced customer engagement”.
However, this expansion “comes with a price".
“It demands more stringent regulations and monitoring, as well as intensified coordination with partner government agencies and relevant law enforcement bodies,” said Tengco.
PAGCOR licensing and regulatory group general manager Daniel Cecilio confirmed with VIXIO GamblingCompliance on Thursday that casinofilipino.com will target domestic and foreign markets, but start as a domestic operation.
“Of course, in future we are looking at operating offshore,” he said.
The PAGCOR push for its own online gambling business serves as a counterpoint to Tengco’s commitment to divesting the regulator of commercial operations, the latest of several attempts to do so over the years.
For PAGCOR to play both roles is “very unethical”, Tengco said.
“I would like to state this morning that we remain true to our word. But as we are aware that such would take time, we commit to increase the value of our casinos in the meantime by introducing improvements and reforms in our gaming industry.”
The decision is also likely to accelerate calls to re-regulate the sector to allow domestic-facing operators to accept foreign customers.
Foreign-facing online (POGO) operations have suffered years of criticism from politicians and civic groups over stubborn criminal activity and a recent, severe spike in industry human trafficking.
Acknowledging this, Tengco today reiterated commitment to an initiative he mentioned in Macau that existing POGO licensees will be required to submit de facto applications for re-licensing.
Tengco also updated PAGCOR revenue metrics, predicting record industry gross gaming revenue (GGR) for 2023 based on 136bn pesos ($2.5bn) for the first half of the year, excepting POGO revenue.
PAGCOR income from gaming operations is now projected to reach 71bn pesos, or 94 percent of its record haul for pre-pandemic year 2019, and 30 percent up on 2022.
“These are all good indicators of how the gaming industry maintains its standing amid … sociopolitical turmoil and how PAGCOR remains a staunch ally of the government in its nation-building efforts,” he said.