Gambling-dependent Philippines allows POGOs to resume operations

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippine government has allowed Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGOs) to reopen, despite most of non-essential industries closing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the government struggles to provide relief to the poor, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) chief executive officer Andrea Domingo confirmed in several radio interviews that POGOs, run mostly by Chinese businessmen, will give the much needed cash.

'Yan (POGOs) ay kikita ng significant revenues nang wala namang risk na kakalat ang COVID-19 (POGOs will earn significant revenues without the risk of spreading COVID-19),” Domingo said in an interview with DZMM. (READ: Online gambling: Good for whose business?)

There are around 60 POGOs, most of which are expected to resume operations as early as next Monday, should they comply with all requirements.

Domingo said 30% of the total workforce of POGOs will be allowed to report for work, provided concerned companies settle unpaid taxes and workers are guaranteed to be healthy.

POGOs also need to provide shuttle services for employees, conduct temperature checks, ensure physical distancing is observed, and provide masks.

Employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are suspected cases will not be allowed to work. Immunocompromised individuals and pregnant women will not be allowed to get back to work.

Domingo also said that POGOs are technically business process outsourcing (BPO) companies. BPOs have been allowed to operate during the Luzon-wide lockdown.

“Ang mga mananaya, katulad ng mga kliyente ng BPO, nasa labas ng bansa. Ang mga platform lang, parang BPOs nga, 'yung service providers lang ng POGO ang nandito sa bansa,” Domingo said.

(The bettors, like the clients of BPOs, are overseas. The platform and service providers, like BPOs, are here in the country.)

Pagcor said POGOs employ 31,556 Filipinos.

“Partial opening of POGOs will create ripples in economic activity, such as the real estate industry which has earned approximately P25 billion on leaseholds and rentals alone, as POGOs occupy 1,000,000 square-meter of office space,” Pagcor said in a statement.

Pagcor has repeatedly sent press releases that POGOs have donated at least P150 million to efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The Philippine government earns billions from various fees and taxes from POGOs. (READ: Pagcor gaming revenues up 11.7% in 2019)

Pagcor said POGOs contributed P5.7 billion in 2019 and P1.8 billion in the 1st quarter of 2020. 

However, the industry is hounded by issues linked to tax evasion, money laundering, sex trafficking, and kidnapping. (READ: POGOs linked to crimes: Forged PH passports, money-laundering, sex trafficking)

China has repeatedly urged the Philippines to put an end to the industry due to these related crimes, but President Rodrigo Duterte said the industry is clean. 

"Under my oath of office as President of the Republic, as elected by you, 'yang POGO na 'yan, malinis 'yan (those POGOs are clean). Laro lang 'yan para sa kabila (It's just a game for the other side) but it employs something like 20,000 in Manila," Duterte said in a speech last March. (READ: China wants Philippines to ban online gamblingRappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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