Philippine Bills Banning POGOs Approved For Chamber Debate

February 13, 2024
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A Philippine legislative committee has approved parallel bills banning foreign-facing online gambling operations (POGOs) for wider debate in the House of Representatives.
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A Philippine legislative committee has approved parallel bills banning foreign-facing online gambling operations (POGOs) for wider debate in the House of Representatives.

The clearance of the two bills by the House Games and Amusements Committee on Monday (February 12) adds to the pressure on PAGCOR chairman and CEO Alejandro Tengco as he defends against wide-ranging attacks on the online gaming segment and its regulation.

The committee passed the 17-month and six-month-old bills without dissent in a six-hour hearing on online gambling and PAGCOR privatisation.

Consideration of a third bill that would prevent PAGCOR from privatising its casino operations was adjourned.

Representative Rufus Rodriguez, the author of one of the POGO bills and the privatisation ban bill, listed a long series of crimes linked to POGO licensees or underground operators, including human trafficking, forcible abduction, homicide, kidnapping for ransom, and investment and cryptocurrency scams.

Rodriguez said police had recorded more than 4,000 victims of “POGO-related crimes” in the first six months of 2023 alone.

“Can you imagine, Mr. Chairman?” he asked. “The entire gamut of criminal law is already included here with the felonies under the revised Penal Code.

“Whatever has been the benefits accrued to our country … has produced a graver concern and problem of peace and order,” he said, referring to constitutional assurances of peace and order for the citizenry.

Rodriguez said an “overwhelming majority” of government delegates to the committee opposed POGOs, and that the five-year experiment of regulating the industry has “failed”.

“This is a project of PAGCOR which should be stopped for the interests of the people of the Republic of the Philippines,” he said.

Just returned from the ICE expo in London, where he promoted and defended the Philippine online gambling ecosystem on two industry panels, Tengco responded to Rodriguez with a defence of PAGCOR reforms, adding that criminal actions “have definitely been addressed”.

“Such crimes have considerably gone down,” he said, in tandem with the culling of around 70 percent of non-compliant POGO licensees in his time as head of PAGCOR.

Still, the committee backed the bills, which now go to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Pasig City in eastern Metro Manila said on Monday that he had ordered a government department to padlock the doors of buildings used by gambling operators who had defied a 2023 city ordinance banning online gambling operations.

“We gave them a chance, more than one month, to peacefully close on their own,” Vico Sotto told reporters.

“However, in blatant disregard of the law and local government regulations, 18 of them continued operating without any permit until this February.”

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