Philippines Senator Wants Full Review of Gaming Industry, Voices Money Laundering Concerns

Posted on: November 30, 2018, 06:30h. 

Last updated on: November 30, 2018, 07:59h.

Philippines Senator Leila de Lima, one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fiercest critics, wants a full review of the country’s ever-growing gaming industry.

Philippines casinos gambling Duterte
Philippines Senator Leila de Lima believes the gaming industry has become too large under President Rodrigo Duterte’s tenure. (Image: Phil Star)

De Lima, a member of the Liberal Party opposed to Duterte’s controlling PDP-Laban, says the country has become oversaturated with land-based casinos. She also believes the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR) is approving too many foreign entities to operate online gaming from inside the country.

Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s moratorium on new casinos effective January 13, 2018, more casinos are scheduled to open in the coming years which may place the gambling and casino industry at serious risk for market saturation and oversupply,” de Lima said in a Senate Resolution.

“Note that there are a number of Chinese gambling companies and Chinese gamblers in the country because gambling is illegal in China and is heavily opposed by its communist government,” she continued. “The possibility of money laundering also concerns some industry players as the shroud of internet anonymity coupled with loose regulatory policies may leave the industry susceptible to fraud and other illicit activities.”

De Lima vs. Duterte

Duterte has been one of the most controversial leaders since he took office in June of 2016. His directive to law enforcement to rid the country of corruption and drugs with a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach has fueled his critics, one of the loudest being de Lima.

After de Lima spoke out against Duterte’s drug war, a local court in 2017 filed charges against her for allegedly violating drug trafficking laws. The government contended that she was receiving kickbacks from narcotics kingpins in exchange for her opposition to the war.

De Lima was imprisoned for 17 months before her release in July. She’s now going back at Duterte on grounds that his mission to rid the country of corruption isn’t being lent to gaming.

She says PAGCOR has authorized 57 Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) to operate remote casinos.

“Apart from its purported positive economic impacts, there are nevertheless lingering questions regarding the social costs of the influx and proliferation of integrated casino entertainment resorts and POGOs within the country,” de Lima declared. “A comprehensive and inclusive policy that seeks to address these issues should be of utmost importance if this industry is to truly benefit the Filipino people.”

Duterte and Gaming

The president recently halted casino projects in Manila’s Entertainment City and on the vacation island Boracay.

After Landing International held a ceremonial groundbreaking on its $1.5 billion Manila venue, Duterte interjected and said the land-lease deal was “disadvantageous to the government” and therefore construction must end.

He also demanded a $500 million casino proposed by Galaxy Entertainment and approved by PAGCOR on Boracay be terminated. Duterte said he was officially forbidding gaming on the island.

But while those two properties are suspended, many others have been completed during his reign. The $2.4 billion Okada Manila opened its doors in December 2016, and the $2.3 billion complex known as Westside City is nearing completion.

Duterte had additionally ordered PAGCOR to sell off its casinos and satellites and transition into a regulator-only capacity. But PAGCOR Chair Andrea Domingo said the properties were too profitable to sell, and will remain under federal control “for the next few years.”