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Pasig City shuts down online gambling outlets over addiction, human trafficking

Ralf Rivas

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Pasig City shuts down online gambling outlets over addiction, human trafficking

CLOSURE. Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto orders a shutdown of all online gambling outlets in the city.

Vico Sotto official Facebook page

'Wala naman silang magandang naidudulot sa lipunan,' says Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto, who also alleges corruption in the issuance of permits for gambling establishments before he took over in 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Pasig City has shut down all forms of online gambling, with Mayor Vico Sotto noting that the social costs far outweigh the financial benefits.

Sotto ordered last Friday, February 9, the shutdown of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), as well as e-games and e-bingo. 

“Wala naman silang magandang naidudulot sa lipunan. Ang dami nang nalulong, meron pang nagpakamatay at kaso ng human trafficking na kaugnay nito. Bukod pa ito sa lagayan na nangyayari sa konseho noon,” Sotto said in a Facebook (FB) post.

(They don’t really contribute anything good to society. Many have fallen into addiction, some have even committed suicide, and there are cases of human trafficking associated with it. This is aside from the corruption happening within the council before.)

“... Naging simbolo ito ng korupsyon sa amin e. Kasi open secret, in previous city councils, nilalagyan yung city council para i-approve, magbigay ng letter ng no objection,” he told Radyo5 in an interview on Tuesday.

(This became a symbol of corruption in our city. It was an open secret, in previous city councils, they would bribe the city council to approve, to issue a letter of no objection.)

Sotto said that in 2022, more than 20 online gambling establishments were told to cease operations by end-2023 when their business permits would expire, but 18 e-games and e-bingo operators did not heed Pasig City Ordinance 55 Series of 2022. 

Yung 18 na ito, ang kukulit e… walang balak sumunod sa batas natin. Hanggang February bukas sila, so pinasara na namin (These 18, they were pesky, they had no plans to follow our laws. They were open until February, so we ordered them closed),” he said.

“Last Friday, I gave the order to our BPLD [Business Permits and Licensing Department], with police assistance, to shut them down,” the mayor said in his FB post.

Sotto said state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) filed a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Pasig City’s decision, but it was denied. The case, however, is on appeal.

He said the closures would affect Pasig City’s revenues, but Sotto said the social costs outweigh the benefits of closing down these establishments.

To be very honest, hindi naman ako anti-gambling 100%…pero itong mga gambling establishments, wala naman silang magandang naidudulot sa ating lipunan, so ba’t di na lang natin sila paalisin sa lungsod natin,” the mayor, who is on his second term, said.

(To be very honest, I’m not 100% anti-gambling, but these gambling establishments bring no benefits to society, so why don’t we just make them leave our city.)

Sotto took over the city in 2019, defeating then-Mayor Bobby Eusebio, whose clan had ruled Pasig for decades. He was reelected in 2022.

He said that he once inspected a POGO office, where out of some 100 employees, he only saw one Filipino working there.

“Not a lot of Filipinos were affected by the closure… We don’t see any value in them being here in the city,” Sotto said.

He acknowledged that it’s impossible to completely stamp out gambling from the city, since there are now many games online.

“Hindi naman completely mawawala, lalo na ngayon, sa cellphone lang, ‘di ko naman kayang pigilan yung mga nangyayari na lahat online. Kung may financial service provider ka lang sa cellphone, ilang click lang, pero at least mabawasan,” Sotto said.

(It won’t be completely eliminated, especially now, with a cellphone, I cannot stop it since everyone is online. If you have a financial service provider on your cellphone, it just takes several clicks, but at least it will be reduced.)

He also clarified that the state-owned Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) lottery outlets are not included in the closures.

Declining financial benefits

The National Economic and Development Authority earlier estimated that POGO’s contribution to the economy has declined in recent years. As of 2022, POGOs remitted P53.1 billion, which is 0.31% of the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP).

The figure is much lower than the P104.5 billion in 2019, during the peak of POGOs, which accounted for 0.67% of GDP.

The amount includes operational expenses, salaries, and benefits of employees, as well as office rent.

Meanwhile, total taxes collected from POGOs in 2021 reached P7.38 billion, lower than the P12.46 billion collected in 2020 or the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, and also lower than the P14.44 billion in 2019 or the peak of POGO operations.

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IN NUMBERS: Risks, benefits of POGO operations

The House games and amusements panel on Monday, February 12, approved a bill banning POGOs in the country. – Rappler.com

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Ralf Rivas

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