Pasig City in the Philippines Outlaws Online Gambling

Posted on: December 27, 2022, 10:57h. 

Last updated on: December 27, 2022, 11:35h.

Pasig City in the Philippines is taking the country’s desire to improve “moral welfare” to the extreme. Its government announced Tuesday that it isn’t going to issue permits for online gambling companies, and those with existing permits will have to move out.

Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto
Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto in a public appearance. He just approved a proclamation that prohibits all forms of online gambling in the city. (Image: PhilStar Global)

The change comes following a string of bad publicity surrounding online gambling in the country. Most notably, the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) segment and e-sabong have placed a black cloud over the entire gambling industry.

POGOs and e-sabong, betting on cockfights, weren’t inherently negative. However, the practices of a few unscrupulous individuals caused a great deal of harm, for which Pasig City is now making the entire industry pay.

Not Morally Acceptable

Ordinance 55 governs the city’s approach toward online gambling going forward. It covers POGOs, online casinos, e-sabong, e-bingo, online poker, and everything else related to online gaming.

The city council approved the new law on December 15, and it takes effect immediately. Any operator involved in any of the online activities covered by the ordinance will have to exit within a year. The new law also covers service providers who support the iGaming industry.

When the POGO ecosystem first emerged, it brought many positive results, including revenue, to the Philippines. But, when the government tried to raise the taxes the segment had to pay, many operators went from playing by the rules to running their operations by any means necessary. This included, in some instances, slave labor, kidnappings, and torture.

Sabong, a long-held legal activity in the Philippines, attracted e-sabong during the COVID-19 pandemic. With fewer options to wager at live events, online betting platforms arrived to fill the void.

When media outlets began reporting that some people were pawning their babies to pay their gambling debts, e-sabong suddenly came under fire. One case involved a 22-year-old mother who sold her newborn to settle a debt of around $858. She lived in Pasig City.

As a result, Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto, who won reelection this past May, believes legal gambling doesn’t have a place in his jurisdiction. The mandate is an attempt to “protect the social and moral welfare of the community.”

Anyone who violates the new ordinance faces a fine of PHP5,000 (US$89.60) and possibly up to a year in prison.

Government Coffer to Take a Hit

Whether his ultimatum finds the conclusion he expects remains open to discussion. There’s already global evidence that gambling doesn’t stop just because it’s illegal, and the black market is a dangerous place to be for gamblers.

Pasig City is the fourth-richest city in the greater Manila area. However, it’s about to lose some of its financial resources with Ordinance 55. Sotto believes the restriction will cost the government around PHP3 million (US$53,790) a year.

That covers the direct economic impact, but there could be additional fallout. The loss of the sector also means a loss of jobs, which could further reduce the city’s financial well-being. The losses are a “very small price to pay for the city,” Sotto asserted.

Pasig City is doing something other legislators want to see happen at a national level. A campaign to ban all online gambling in the country is currently underway, but that’s going to take a lot more work.