Philippine Regulator Under Congressional Attack Over E-Lotto

January 26, 2024
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Philippine members of Congress are lining up to attack the nation’s lottery regulator over the creation of an e-lotto platform outside due process.
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Philippine members of Congress are lining up to attack the nation’s lottery regulator over the creation of an e-lotto platform outside due process.

A Senate probe into the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) began on Thursday (January 25), with senators demanding explanations from PCSO officials on an immediate series of jackpot wins by online customers.

“I have my doubts” on the propriety of the draws, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel told a Senate panel hearing into the regulator.

PCSO general manager Melquiades Robles told the panel, however, that the e-lotto promotion had been “very successful”, attracting market interest and revenue.

“Not only did we get [revenue for] charity [obligations], but we generated more taxes and we earned income for that,” he said.

Leading the attack on the PCSO at the outset was House of Representatives member Rufus Rodriguez, who on Tuesday accused the regulator of ignoring his committee-backed bill that bans online lotto products, as well as exposing minors to its trial e-lotto program.

Rodriguez called on PCSO general manager Robles to resign and for the PCSO to be sanctioned, for failing to secure executive approval for e-lotto and exposing “minors to the evils of gambling” and eroding their “moral values”.

The PCSO e-lotto platform was launched on December 15 for a one-year test run and is operated by Belle Corporation’s subsidiary Pacific Online Systems Corporation, a long-time partner of the regulator in lottery distribution.

Rodriguez told reporters that e-lotto “is accessible to anyone, even to young children whose welfare might be affected”.

“Robles likewise has not secured approval of the e-lotto from President [Ferdinand Marcos Jr],” he said, adding that the PCSO also ignored warnings from lawyers with the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC).

“I believe that the president will not allow this online lotto because this will be very detrimental to our children and the Filipino youth,” Rodriguez said.

Controversy over the e-lotto launch increased two weeks ago when an online customer won a nearly 700m peso ($12.4m) jackpot amid several large lottery payouts.

Senator Imee Marcos, a sister of President Marcos, intervened on Friday (January 26) when she asked if the PCSO is “running rogue” and “doing what it feels like doing”.

The PCSO has suffered a number of controversies in recent weeks, with officials embarrassed over the release of a photo of a lottery winner receiving her prize.

The photo had been crudely doctored to add a face mask and different clothing to protect the woman’s identity, prompting hilarity and scorn on social media and forcing Robles to apologise to a Senate hearing last week.

Senators are also pursuing the PCSO over its new use of “thermal” ticket paper, which has been reported to fade to invisibility in six to seven months, potentially invalidating lottery wins that can be redeemed within one year.

Pressure on the Philippines’ gambling regulators has increased markedly over the last year, with several raids on underground foreign-facing online gambling operations with enslaved workers embarrassing PAGCOR, and a botched raid on a legitimate foreign-facing operation embarrassing the Games and Amusements Board and senior police.

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