Philippines President Duterte Backs Down from Fight with Gambling Sector

  • President Rodrigo Duterte is a long-standing opponent of gambling in the Philippines and has fought hard against it
  • He blocked the development of two major resort casinos after introducing a ban on new developments
  • It appears Duterte is now giving up the fight against gambling, as indicated in a recent speech
  • PAGCOR, the regulator, has been tackling illegal offshore online operators that target the country's residents
President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be stepping down from his fight against the Filipino gambling industry.
President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be stepping down from his fight against the Filipino gambling industry.

Fight with “a vice” over

It looks like President Rodrigo Duterte is done with his fight against the gambling sector in the Philippines. He is now instead simply urging people that they should not take part in gambling as it is “a vice”.

Speaking in Pasig City, Duterte said: “That gambling-gambling, I will not meddle with it any more, just do not enter. I cannot control it, really… I will let you in, but not extortion or drugs.”

He appears to have realized that gambling is ingrained in Filipino culture and that it would be near impossible to stop people engaging in the activity. He said: “That will be up to you. I am not trying to encourage you… I cannot stop it anyway and I know I am lacking.”

Crackdown on gambling sector

The Philippines has embraced its gambling sector for many years, but Duterte in recent times has railed against it.

A government moratorium led to numerous high-profile shutdowns of casino resort development projects.The moratorium, which came into effect in January 2018, means no more resort casinos will be built.

Confusingly, the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), which regulates the gambling sector, issued two resort casino licenses after that date. However, Duterte eventually said the two licenses would not be valid. The president’s statement came after development had already begun.

One of the licenses was for the Galaxy Entertainment Group, which was in the process of building a new resort casino on Boracay. However, shortly after development began, President Duterte said no casinos would be allowed on the island.

Also blocked was a $1.5bn resort casino in Manila being developed by Landing International Development. News of the project’s shutdown came mere minutes after ground was broken on the project.

There has been no indication as to whether or not the ban on new resort casinos will continue.

There were also allegations that a lot of foreign workers coming to the Philippines to work in the gambling sector were not paying proper taxes. Most of these workers were from China. This has led to the authorities putting in place a tax on foreign casino workers.

Shady practices

There has also been a strong push from PAGCOR to rally against those illegal operations targeting residents in the Philippines. In just a couple of years, the number of gambling companies operating in the nation without a license fell from 30,000 to less than 200.

This was a coordinated effort from the Philippines National Police and PAGCOR, under the direction of Duterte. PAGCOR has seen a significant uptick in revenues since cracking down on illegal operations.

Snapshot of the Filipino gambling sector

Gambling has a long tradition in the Philippines. Regulator PAGCOR has been in operation since 1976. Over the years it has been expanding its scope. For example, it now oversees the smaller agencies that focus on specialized areas of the gambling sector.

PAGCOR ensures that gambling revenues are consistent and that they complement the tourism sector, which is another significant source of revenue for the country.

More than 20 casinos are already in operation, mostly in Manila, the capital. A number of other facilities are in the works. The national lottery and horse racing are other popular forms of gambling, as is cockfighting.

There is no online gambling in the Philippines. This has not stopped a lot of offshore companies targeting people in the country with their online operations. The authorities are constantly trying to crack down on this activity.

PAGCOR does issue online gambling licenses, but these operations have to focus on other countries. They act as a gateway for a lot of operators to get into the growing Asian online gambling market.

An online casino license application will cost $50,0000, with there being a $40,000 license fee for online sportsbooks. Upon approval, there is a further fee of $200,000 for an online casino license and $150,000 for an online sportsbook.