Philippine Online Gaming In Limbo As Marcos Prepares To Rule

June 15, 2022
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Just two weeks before his inauguration, Philippine President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr has yet to reveal the fate of online gaming for the local market, even to regulator PAGCOR, according to a top executive.

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Just two weeks before his inauguration, Philippine President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr has yet to reveal the fate of online gaming for the local market, even to regulator PAGCOR, according to a top executive.

The aide to the PAGCOR chairman told an online business forum on Tuesday (June 15) that the future of the online gambling segment targeting local customers “will depend on the new administration” and that “we do not know if it would be allowed to continue or not”.

Lawyer Jose Tria Jr, a special assistant to chairman and CEO Andrea Domingo and vice president of the regulator’s online gaming licensing and regulatory arm, told the Manila Times forum that the fate of the nascent Philippine-facing online gambling industry could depend on its earning power.

“These figures will probably be considered by the next administration and looked at if this is a viable source of income,” he said.

Tria noted that local online betting activity easily outgunned retail betting in the first quarter of 2022, and has since risen to a 77 percent share of the regulated betting market.

“The gaming sector is experiencing a change, or morphing into an online mode of gaming,” he said.

“We see that as an upcoming trend. The next administration should also consider that.

“If we do not go with the times, or we do not adapt or we do not respond to the preferences of the players, then the illegal operators would probably gain more than the government, and the government ends up losing or not receiving any revenues from the income derived by these illegal operators.”

Tria said illegal online gambling among locals is widespread and highly resistant to crackdowns, given that operators can create new sites as fast as the authorities can shut down older ones.

He also suggested that PAGCOR will push the incoming government to refine and expand the regulatory environment for local online gaming so that the state can retain tax revenue and exert more control over problem gambling.

“The development of technology is also fast-paced, so every day we have a new challenge to face,” he said.

“This will be a challenge, but I am sure PAGCOR would be able to come up with better regulations if these online games are allowed to continue.”

Uncertainty surrounding Marcos’ policy preferences is not restricted to gambling. The son of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos largely spurned discussions of policy during his campaign and refused to debate his rivals.

And although Marcos’ strongman politics and his smattering of policies revealed to date do not chart a significant deviation from the road travelled by President Rodrigo Duterte, the composition of the PAGCOR board and senior executive remains unclear.

The most recent transfers of power have seen PAGCOR boards and top executives resign en masse in keeping with the regulator’s deference to the Office of the President, also in anticipation of hostile changes and even litigation from succeeding administrations and their predominantly partisan appointees.

However, there is little indication of the current PAGCOR board’s intentions, with Domingo and president and COO Alfredo Lim yet to reveal their courses of action.

Should the regulated local Philippine market for online gambling endure and expand, Tria said the next administration should attack illegal gambling by introducing dedicated legislation to overcome loopholes in enforcement.

“The problem is, since we do not have any laws on online gaming right now, [illegal operators] have the temerity or the courage to conduct illegal gaming,” he said.

Meanwhile, in a rare act of contrition, Duterte on Tuesday apologised to the public for his delay in shutting down the briefly legal e-sabong (online cockfighting) market amid the disappearance of more than 30 people associated with the segment.

Duterte said he was initially impressed by the market’s revenue, but acted only after receiving his interior secretary’s hostile assessment of the activity.

“With the e-sabong, I’m sorry I did not realise what it would be like,” he said in comments translated by the Inquirer newspaper.

“I thought the moving factor there was 640m pesos [$12m] a month [in revenue], and many billions a year because many firms were operating.

“I realised very late and I am very sorry that it had to happen. I did not think that it was like that.”

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