Duterte’s Focus on Online Gaming Shakes Operators

By in Industry on

Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte’s latest crackdown has turned its focus to the online gaming industry, with Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), the state regulatory agency, also counted among the chief organizations concerned over the future of online gaming in the country.

In light of recent developments, the agency has decided to abandon its gaming operations and focus on regulation. Gaming analyst at Maybank ATR Kim Eng., Rommel Rodrigo, reported “PAGCOR’s move to sell its gaming operations and stay as regulator is a step in the right direction as this will take away potential conflicts of interest…The government will get the highest value if these casinos are sold as one rather than if the assets are sold separately. Bundled as one, these casinos will give buyers a massive advantage.”

The future is uncertain for now, but what is known is that the president has already begun to shut down gaming operations within the Philippines. Shares of operators with establishments in the region witnessed their stock prices plummeting after the president’s announcement to commit to closures, with PhilWeb Corp. and Leisure & Resorts World Corp. among the hardest hit.

PhilWeb has been denied gaming license to operate as well as Leisure & Resorts, whose online bingo operations may also be denied a license renewal.

PhilWeb chairman Roberto Ongpin received the lion’s share of Duterte’s wrath, who was singled-out as an “Oligarch” and according to the president “benefited while the poor suffered.” Additionally, Ongpin was denied an offer to give 49 percent of PhilWeb operations to the state agency, PAGCOR, late last year.

Offshore Alternatives

In the wake of crackdowns gaming operators and regulators seek to erect an offshore platform for the industry in an effort to appease the president’s demands and maintain a dependable revenue stream. If all goes well for PAGCOR the platform could help recoup the 10 billion pesos, or $216 million, the agency is expected to lose following the closures.

Duterte has since backtracked a bit, softening his hard-line on gaming, provided that all the participating bodies pay appropriate taxes and comply with all required regulation. Licenses are being considered for foreign operators under newly drafted regulations, while dozens of domestic operators will likely be pushed to close their doors. PAGCOR head Andrea Domingo offered comment, “With the strong and repeated pronouncement of the president, there is no choice,” while in regard to the agency’s continued operations, she had this to say, “It’s 100 percent money. This is going to augment our revenue without breaking any of the pronouncements of the president not to have Filipinos get into the gaming habit.”

Fees are expected to rise sharply for operators according to PAGCOR’s Domingo, who outlined several tentative dues the agency is considering, including a one-time $200,000 payment for an online gaming license to operate in the Philippines, a fee of $10,000 per table each month and $100 per slot machine. Licensees may also be required to put up a $250,000 cash bond.

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