Philippines Leader Rodrigo Duterte Announces Hands-Off Policy on Many Forms of Gambling Just Before National Election

Posted on: May 12, 2019, 10:15h. 

Last updated on: May 12, 2019, 10:15h.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted he can no longer “control” gambling in the Southeast Asian nation and it looks like he will let individuals decide for themselves about taking part in popular forms of gaming.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has signaled an even more lax policy on gambling enforcement. The comments come as the nation heads to the polls for a national mid-term election. (Image: Manila Bulletin)

“I cannot stop it anyway and I know I am lacking,” the Philippines leader told a rally supporting the PDP–Laban political party in Pasig City on Saturday, just hours before the national mid-term election began on Monday.

“I will not meddle with it anymore,” he told supporters. But he warned he will not allow illegal “extortion or drugs” to take place, according to a report from the Manila Times.

Earlier in his administration, Duterte had made it a priority to scrutinize “illegal” online or in-person gaming. But this weekend’s speech appears to be his clearest statement so far to signal his government will take a more hands-off policy.

He specifically mentioned two well-known games played in the Philippines, especially by locals. They are jueteng — a numbers game — and hantak — where gamblers bet on whether three coins will be heads up or down after being flipped in the air.

That will be up to you. I am not trying to encourage you… I cannot stop it anyway and I know I am lacking,” Duterte was quoted by the newspaper.

Election at Stake

The statements may be an attempt to boost his government’s popularity with mainstream voters.  Senate and House seats are being decided in the election.

Duterte’s spot is not up for grabs — because he is in the middle of his current six-year term. But he obviously would like to get more political allies in office.

After gaining power in 2016, Duterte described gambling as a nasty vice that needed to be controlled and investigated by the national government — much like the trade in illegal drugs.

Two years ago, Duterte signed a proclamation announcing his government’s beefed-up enforcement on improper gambling. Yet, it was followed by another statement last June from the controversial leader indicating compliance on jueteng laws would become lax.

More recently, too, no new licenses have been issued for land-based gaming venues. But online gambling operations have strengthened in recent years.

Concerns also have risen in the country about foreign employees working in the sector avoiding the payment of national taxes. Duterte has warned online casino operators and others to “pay the correct taxes.”

“Gamble until you die. I do not really care,” he has said previously.

Earlier this month, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the national casino regulator that also operates gaming venues, sent $170 million in taxes to the federal government during the first quarter of 2019.

Income from gaming operations totaled PHP18.27 billion ($353.5 million) for January through March, PAGCOR reported. That represents a 15.6 percent jump over the same quarter in 2018.

Duterte has also changed his stance on PAGCOR. First, he wanted the organization to sell off its casinos and just be a regulator. But then he realized the eight Casino Filipino venues and nearly three dozen satellite facilities generated too much money for them to disappear.

Philippines casinos won $3.6 billion last year, and the four integrated land-based casino resorts in Manila generated the lion’s share of the gross gaming revenue (GGR). City of Dreams, Solaire, Resorts World, and Okada won $2.71 billion. E-gaming parlors reported GGR of more than $500 million.

More recently, Duterte announced he wanted PAGCOR to make the Philippines “the top gaming and entertainment destination” in Southeast Asia by 2020.

China Responds to Philippines Gaming

Online casino operations in the Philippines have led to stepped up enforcement by authorities in China.

Earlier this month, Chinese police broke up a $312 million gambling ring recently working out of China’s Anhui Province that was associated with a sports betting website based in the Philippines. At least seven suspects were arrested by authorities investigating the online scheme.

More than 170 alleged illegal internet gaming enterprises have been raided by federal law enforcement agencies in the Philippines over the last two years. Some 100,000 Chinese foreigners also are in the Philippines helping to facilitate the illegal enterprises, authorities claim, with most of the operations targeting the Chinese market.