Philippines Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has confirmed that President Rodrigo Duterte discussed the nation’s growing online gaming industry with Chinese leader Xi Jinping last Friday, but says no specific request for a complete ban on the industry was made.
In a statement issued by the Department of Finance over the weekend, Dominguez said, “China respected the Philippines’ sovereignty over the government’s policy on gambling during President Rodrigo R. Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting in Beijing.
“The Chinese leader did not ask or request the Philippine Chief Executive to ban offshore gaming operations, which mostly employ Chinese nationals.”
It had been suggested prior to last week’s meeting between the two leaders in Beijing that Xi would ask Duterte to put a complete stop to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) industry, with gaming regulator PAGCOR having already placed a moratorium on the issuance of new POGO licenses until at least the end of 2019.
The moratorium follows a statement from the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines in August expressing its concerns over the proposed transfer of Chinese workers employed by Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) to self-contained hubs and warning against the illegal inducement of Chinese citizens to gamble either online or in Philippines land-based casinos.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang poured fuel on the fire ahead of last week’s meeting between Xi and Duterte, stating, “We hope the Philippines will go further and ban all online gambling.” Geng described online gambling as “the most dangerous tumor in modern society detested by people all across the world.”
While Domiguez said that Xi “applauded the moratorium on new licensees in the Philippines,” he added that “President Xi’s statement regarding POGO during his meeting with President Duterte was just a comment.”
However, Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo added that, at the very least, Duterte will “most likely study” the impact of shutting down the POGO scheme.
“President Xi expressed appreciation for what we did in suspending new (POGO) applicants,” the Nikkei Asian Review reported Panelo as saying. “But he said they will appreciate it more if POGO will be eliminated or stopped.”
The Philippines’ Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) announced last week that it has launched a study on behalf of the Monetary Board into the full economic impact of potentially shutting down the Philippines’ 60 licensed POGO operators, suggesting the industry is not safe just yet.
PAGCOR has stated it expects to receive around Php8 billion in revenue from POGO operators in 2019, up from Php7.37 billion last year.
The issue of online gaming operations in the Philippines comes just two weeks after Cambodia’s Prime Minister announced that the Kingdom would stop issuing new online gaming licenses and would not renew current licensed when they expire, placing a huge question mark over what the future looks like for towns such as Sihanoukville which has seen an explosion in casino development in recent years on the back of the online gaming industry.
IAG understands that Cambodia’s online gaming licenses will all expire in January.