Duterte Takes Shock U-turn on Online Gambling
Posted on: August 24, 2016, 06:42h.
Last updated on: August 24, 2016, 06:43h.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s hardline crackdown on online gambling took an unexpected twist this this week.
On Tuesday the government’s gambling operator-regulator, PAGCOR, announced that it was prepared to license online gambling firms that targeted “non-locals” and that it was in the process of “readying application forms.”
“We don’t know yet how saleable it is; there might be no takers,” PAGCOR chief Andrea Domingo admitted to Reuters. “Or there could be many applicants,” she added brightly.
PAGCOR hopes that the new licenses might offset some of the revenue lost by Duterte’s systematic dismantling of the country’s online gambling giant, Philweb. Until recently, Philweb operated 299 online gambling boutique cafés throughout the Philippines, which offered online video poker and slots via roughly 8,000 terminals.
Last year the company’s operations contributed around $12.2 million in taxes to the government.
Duterte swept to power in June on an agenda that promised to wipe out crime and drugs. Literally. The president has leant his support to vigilante death squads that carry out the extra-judicial killings of criminals and habitual drug users with impunity.
Once sworn in, he immediately set his sights on the Philippine online gambling industry, and in particular Philweb and its chairman, the billionaire Robert Ongpin.
Ongpin was representative of the “oligarchs,” which he believed were “embedded in government” and practiced “influence peddling.” Meanwhile, said Duterte, online gambling “had to stop” because too many Filipinos were choosing to gamble instead of working for a living. It appeared that PAGCOR was taken completely by surprise by the announcement.
At the beginning of the month Philweb was forced to announce it would wind down its operations, due to the non-renewal of its license by PAGCOR. Ongpin stepped down as president of the company and, as a last-ditch bid for approval, offered to transfer almost all of his majority stake in the company to PAGCOR, in an attempt to save the business and its 6,000 employees. PAGCOR was forced to refuse.
But on Wednesday, Duterte was clearly in a more tolerant mood.
“Pay the correct taxes… Gamble until you die. I do not really care,” he announced magnanimously.
Duterte is now prepared to restore online gambling provided “taxes are correctly collected and they [online gambling cafes] are situated or placed in districts where gambling is allowed, which means to say, not within the church distance or schools.”
“I was mad because even the youth are gambling and there was no way of collecting the proper taxes,” he admitted.
Whether this means he is prepared to permit Philweb to continue its operations as before is currently unclear.
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