Once an ardent critic of all gambling activities, having quashed new casino developments in Boracay and Manila, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte now considers gambling a necessary source of funds to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duterte outlined his views during a meeting with political party officials on Wednesday, with state-owned Philippine News Agency reporting that online gambling was among the topics of discussion.
“Why did I allow gambling? We don’t have money. Now that we need money the most sensible thing is really just to encourage those activities,” the President is quoted as saying.
“Though it may sound not really repulsive but maybe repugnant to some, you have to deal with it because we need money for the country.”
Duterte famously quashed a proposed US$500 million casino development in Boracay by Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment Group in partnership with Leisure and Resorts World Corp after issuing an Executive Order cancelling the casino licenses of all casino operators on the island.
Hong Kong-listed Landing International Development Ltd also had a 50-year land lease deal for development of a US$1.5 billion integrated resort in Manila’s Entertainment City precinct cancelled by Duterte in August 2018.
Despite this, the nation’s much discussed Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) industry and more recently a PIGO scheme allowing casino operators to provide online gaming to locals have been developed under Duterte’s watch.
“They say I allowed gambling during my time,” Duterte said Wednedsay.
“Correct, that is true. I do not deny it. Now, I would like to bring your mind a few years back in time. When I was newly installed as President, I said ‘I am against gambling’ and I never allowed it.”
A lack of government funding as the Philippines battles to control COVID-19 has ultimately forced Duterte’s hand.
“When it comes to the pandemic, we’re running out of money. We used up all our reserved funds to contain the viral virus from rampaging all throughout the country,” he said.
Philippines gaming regulator PAGCOR, which by law contributes a large chunk of its profits to the government, reported a 49.1% year-on-year decline in income from gaming operations in 1Q21 to Php8.36 billion (US$172.8 million).