Philippines Regulator Greenlights Online Gambling Lifeline for Pandemic-Stricken Casinos

Posted on: November 4, 2020, 05:33h. 

Last updated on: November 4, 2020, 10:10h.

Casinos in the Philippines have permission to accept online bets to ease the financial pressures of the coronavirus.

The Philippines’ integrated resorts like the City of Dreams Manila, seen here, have been operating at 30 percent capacity since emerging from lockdown. (Image: YouTube)

Alfredo Lim, president of the country’s operator-regulator, PAGCOR, confirmed the move to Bloomberg on Monday by text. But he declined to elaborate on the shape these new online gambling operations might take, or whether Filipinos would be able to play.

The Philippines already has a flourishing online gambling sector, but its operators (POGOs) are prohibited from offering their services domestically. Instead, they focus on customers in mainland China, to Beijing’s irritation.

In an email to Asian Gaming Brief last week, PAGCOR confirmed it was mulling the idea of allowing casinos to offer online betting, and that it would be available to “known patrons” only.

Duterte Against Online Gaming

This could suggest services might be limited to high-rolling regulars, and would probably take the form of proxy betting. This, in its simplest form, is where a customer can play in real time on a table game (usually baccarat) from a remote location by using a proxy to place their bets. The game is then live-streamed to the players’ device.

Proxy betting is banned in Macau, which has been the Philippines’ gain. The practice has thrived in the Philippines, again by focusing on wealthy Chinese clients.

But Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is unlikely to allow online gambling to take root among the general populace. In fact, the strongarm despises the concept.  

On coming to power in 2016, Duterte embarked on the systematic destruction of PhilWeb. At that time, PhilWeb was the country’s biggest online operator to the domestic market via its network of 300 internet gaming cafés.

Casinos Hit by COVID Regulations 

Most casinos in the Philippines are operated by PAGCOR. But the country’s private commercial casinos are largely spectacular, sprawling integrated resorts located in Entertainment City in Parañaque, Metro Manila.

Properties like City of Dreams Manila, Okada Manila, and Solaire have been operating at 30 percent capacity since emerging from lockdown, and have been making noises about online gambling for some time.

According to the latest PAGCOR figures, the country’s casinos were hit with a collective 95.7 percent decline in revenues in Q2. Gross gaming revenue for the sector was just US$46.8 million, compared with US$1.08 billion for the same period in 2019.

Richard Lanela, an analyst at COL Financial Group Inc, told Bloomberg the move would allow the integrated resorts to “survive and get through the pandemic until they are allowed by government to fully operate. This is a way for them to earn some revenue.”