Philippines intensifies illegal offshore gambling crackdown

Picture of Alejandro Tengco courtesy of Bangkok Post

The authorities in the Philippines have intensified efforts to shut down illegal offshore gambling operations amidst growing calls for a complete ban due to alleged connections to criminal syndicates.

The country’s gaming regulator revealed approximately 250 to 300 offshore gambling firms are operating without a licence, a significant increase from the 46 legitimate operators. This information was disclosed by Alejandro Tengco, chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR), during a telephone interview.

“Together with the police, we search for these illegal operators, conduct raids and shut them down.”

The online gaming industry in the Philippines began to flourish in 2016, driven by operators leveraging the nation’s liberal gaming laws to attract customers from China where gambling is prohibited.

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At its zenith, the Philippine offshore gambling operators (POGOS) sector comprised 300 firms and employed over 300,000 Chinese workers. However, the Covid-19 pandemic and stricter tax regulations have forced many operators to either relocate or operate clandestinely, according to Tengco.

The crackdown stems from numerous reports of crimes associated with POGOS, including human trafficking, torture, kidnapping, and various forms of fraud such as credit card scams, cryptocurrency investment scams, and love scams, where perpetrators use fake online identities to deceive victims into sending money.

In a notable incident in March reported by local media, law enforcement officers raided a POGOS facility in Pampanga province, rescuing more than 800 workers, including Filipinos and Chinese nationals.

Security officials voiced concerns over the threat posed by illegal Pogos. The defence minister highlighted that criminal syndicates masquerading as Pogos present a national security risk. The National Security Council has also stressed these illicit activities should not be tolerated, said Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro.

“The concern is that we should stop these syndicated criminal activities operating out of our base, which weaken our financial standing, our country ratings, and corrupt our society.”

PAGCOR’s Tengco indicated that the gaming regulator would adhere to the government’s ultimate decision regarding Pogos, which could potentially lead to a total ban on the offshore gambling industry.

Despite the crackdown, the government anticipates generating 24.5 billion pesos (15.3 billion baht) from Pogo fees and taxes this year, with half of the 46 licensed POGOS being Chinese firms, reported Bangkok Post.

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