High risk, high return: House to probe online gambling boom

MANILA, Philippines – The House committee on ways and means has been "quietly studying" the risks of the online gambling industry in the country and is set to probe its overall impact on the Philippine economy.

In a briefing at Malacañang on Wednesday, September 18, Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda, committee chairman, said the hearing would focus on just how big Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) are, as well as what would happen should the Philippines heed China's call to totally end the industry.

"We are trying to assess it and then we will conduct a committee hearing probably jointly with the other committee. This is not for one mind to crack," Salceda said.

"I'm telling you, it has returns. It's high risk...high risk, high return for the Philippines as an economy," he added.

China, which Salceda referred to as the Philippines' "frenemy," has linked POGOs to transnational crimes like money laundering and kidnapping. (READ: A Chinese online gambling worker's plight in Manila)

Salceda noted that POGOs already comprise almost 1% of the Philippines' gross domestic product (GDP) and "half of the sale of office space" was leased by gambling companies in 2018.

Should the industry be completely banned, he said there would be a glut in office and residential space. Thousands of jobs would also be gone suddenly.

"It's now breaching 1% of GDP. So, it's paying more wages than BPOs (business process outsourcing firms). So you can just imagine what kind of – in only 3 years," Salceda said. (READ: How China's online gambling addiction is reshaping Manila)

Real estate services firm Leechiu Property Consultants recently reported that POGOs contribute as much as P551 billion to the Philippine economy yearly. 

To keep a close eye on the industry, the Albay congressman asked National Statistician Dennis Mapa to better reflect POGOs in the national accounts.

"In-ask ko siya na to put POGO in the S of the AIS – agriculture, industries, services – para ma-monitor na natin iyong risk from POGO. Kasi right now, kina-capture lang iyong POGO through their purchase sa [malls], nagsha-shopping, nag-iinom sa Makati Avenue," Salceda said.

(I asked Mapa to put POGOs in the S of the AIS – agriculture, industries, services – so that we can monitor the risk from POGO. Right now, POGOs are only captured through their purchases in malls, their shopping and drinking at Makati Avenue.)

Salceda also requested Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno to account for POGO service exports to fully understand and monitor the risks. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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