Gatchalian slams Pagcor’s POGO roadmap: ‘This is toilet paper’

Ralf Rivas

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Gatchalian slams Pagcor’s POGO roadmap: ‘This is toilet paper’
Lawmakers also question the motivation behind Pagcor's move to grow POGOs despite the social ills related to the industry

MANILA, Philippines – Despite strong statements against online gambling, state regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) has ambitious targets to further grow the contentious industry.

The problem, however, is that officials still struggle to answer basic industry questions after over six years of regulating Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).

In a Senate hearing on Wednesday, November 23, Pagcor Senior Manager Renfred Tan revealed that they intends to grow POGO revenues to P10 billion by 2027, higher than the P8 billion earned in 2019 or during the peak of POGO activities.

Tan also said that they aim to gain a 100% market share of the online gambling industry in Southeast Asia.

But Tan and other Pagcor officials could not give a straight answer when Senator Sherwin Gatchalian pressed them about global gross gaming revenues, where POGO clients are located, and the number of jobs that could be generated should revenues rise.

Tan also presented Pagcor’s roadmap for POGO growth – it was four pages long. 

“We’re trying to understand the industry, that’s what I’m driving at. That’s why alam ko naman itong ginawa ‘nyo is really for compliance purposes, but itong ginawa ‘nyo is toilet paper, to be honest about it,” Gatchalian said.

(I know that what you’ve written is just for compliance purposes, but this document you made is toilet paper, to be honest about it)

“We don’t understand the industry. We don’t even know the potential of this industry. You plan to increase revenue but you don’t know where to get it and you don’t know how many POGOs there are in the entire world. So we’re just going to allow them to continue but you yourself don’t know the industry,” the senator said.

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China considers POGOs illegal and has urged the Philippines to stop online gambling. Pagcor admitted it does not have a study analyzing the risks, should China find a way to ban its citizens from gambling online.

“’Pag totoong negosyo kayo, lugi na kayo nang malaki. You’re quite lucky GOCC kayo,” Gatchalian quipped.

(If you were a real business, you’d lose a substantial amount. You’re lucky that Pagcor is a government-owned and controlled corporation.)

Pagcor is also planning to establish more POGO hubs, a move previously opposed by the Chinese government.

“We see this as an ideal setup hub for POGOs because the operations and services that employees may need are concentrated in a one-stop shop,” Tan said.

The Chinese embassy in Manila said in 2019 that “a large number of Chinese citizens have been illegally recruited and hired in the Philippine gambling industry” and that some of their citizens were cheated into working illegally in the country.

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Lawmakers also questioned the motivation behind Pagcor’s move to grow POGOs despite the social ills related to the industry.

It was pointed out in the hearing that Pagcor’s bonuses and other employee benefits reached a high of P1.13 billion in 2020, a year after the agency reported POGO revenues hitting P8 billion.

Gatchalian said that Pagcor may be torn between regulating and getting bonuses through higher revenues.

The senator is now looking at amending the Pagcor charter, as there may be a need for a separate agency tasked to regulate the gambling industry, and another one to operate casinos. – 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.