Misconceptions about POGO
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - June 6, 2020 - 12:00am

Illegal online gaming is not new.

According to government data, illegal gaming had been in existence in the Philippines since 2003, employing 80,000 foreign workers with an undetermined number of illegals.

To curb its proliferation along with the influx of illegal foreign workers, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) beginning in 2016 took over the licensing of online gaming.

As defined by PAGCOR, Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO) are legitimate business entities that provide offshore gaming services exclusively to players abroad through the Internet. These gaming services include casino games and sports betting that can be played virtually and without being physically inside a casino. It explained that POGO is basically online gaming which allows foreigners based abroad to play casino games. Betting and payouts can only be made abroad using electronic transactions through financial institutions. Filipinos and foreign nationals staying in the Philippines, as well as Filipinos residing abroad, are not allowed to take part in the online game.

In its primer, PAGCOR noted that POGO service providers are duly registered corporations in the Philippines with all the required licenses and permits to operate a regular business. They provide support to the operations of licensed operators in various areas of operations including customer relations, strategic support, IT support, gaming software platform, live studio and streaming, and other back-end activities like accounting and database management. This is why POGO service providers are classified under business processing outsourcing.

PAGCOR also emphasized that before a duly registered POGO service provider can get accredited or licensed, the POGO operator abroad has to pass the strict vetting process by PAGCOR to ensure that its business is legitimate. It said that it has also hired a third-party auditor based in Malta, paid for by POGO service providers, to ensure strict and more extensive audit of all the gaming sites of the POGO operators abroad.

PAGCOR likewise stressed that there are no POGO operators in the country, only POGO service providers.

To address concerns about POGOs engaging in illegal activities, PAGCOR stressed that POGO is not prostitution nor is it criminality, nor a spy network. It said that it has been working closely with the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines to crackdown on Chinese nationals with criminal records who are illegally working or doing business here. And since January this year, at least 2,000 Chinese nationals illegally working in POGOs and other fraudulent offshore operations have been repatriated to their country.

On the issue of money laundering, Pagcor explained that POGO operators based outside of the country are required to register with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) as covered persons. The registration procedures include submission of all documents relevant to the corporate structure. It added that POGO is not an attractive venue to launder dirty money due to the absence of cash transaction and record-keeping of player identities and betting history. All bets and payouts are electronically done abroad through financial institutions.

House ways and means committee chair Rep. Joey Salceda has estimated that POGOs contribute around P94.7 billion annually to the country’s gross domestic product. Tax collection from POGOs in 2018 and 2019 alone reached P22.4 billion, inclusive of VAT from rent and from workers’ consumption.

PAGCOR meanwhile estimates that POGOs pump in a total of about P104 billion annually to the economy, which includes some P34 billion in taxes and fees directly paid by POGOs. In a TV interview, Alliance Global Group CEO Kevin Andrew Tan said that with proper regulation, POGOs could indeed provide the government with much needed revenues. “They (POGOs) should continue to grow because they are contributors. It’s pretty much like free money to the government if you ask me,” he pointed out.

K fever infects Smart

Undoubtedly, watching K dramas over Netflix during the early weeks of the lockdown kept many Filipinos, including this writer, sane. With virtually nothing else to keep them entertained, these larger-than-life Korean actors and actresses added spice to our dreary existence. After all, nobody can stand 16 hours of listening to COVID19 related news. It was not good for one’s mental and emotional well-being.

And just like many others, the first K drama (after Boys Over Flowers in 2009) and its Taiwanese predecessor Meteor Garden way back in 2001-2002) that I watched prior to the onset of the lockdown was Crash Landing on You. I was able to finish the 16 episodes in just a few days and it was hard to accept that it had come to an end. So I started looking for other Korean telenovelas. My friends keep recommending new ones and I could barely keep up. So I started following other Korean actors like Park Seo-joon and Ji Chang Wook. But there’s no one like the original – Hyun Bin.

So when I learned that Smart Communications managed to get Hyun Bin onboard as its newest endorser and then received an invite for Smart’s online press conference to announce this and to watch the TV ad before it officially airs, the first question that came to my mind is, is he coming to the Philippines?

Last April, Hyun Bin of the CLOY worldwide phenomenon signed a one-year contract with Smart which includes coming to the Philippines once. And according to Smart senior vice president Jane Basas, Hyun Bin is excited to come.

Hyun Bin’s Smart TV commercial was shot entirely in South Korea but because of digital technology, Smart, together with its agency Grey Philippines and production team Unitel Straight Shooters, was able to monitor the actual shoot remotely, giving comments, suggestions, directions in real time.

Smart president and CEO Al Panlilio described Hyun Bin as very game, professional, down to earth, passionate about his work, and simple. The South Korean star, Panlilio said, was really smart and was able to learn his Filipino lines really quick.

While Hyun Bin achieved worldwide fame via CLOY, he actually first won the hearts of Filipinos when in 2005, a Filipino TV network aired a Tagalog-dubbed version of his romantic comedy drama “My Name is Kim Sam Soon.”

Asked how much was paid to Hyun Bin, the first foreign endorser for Smart with a whole campaign built around him, Basas said Hyun Bin is a very priceless investment for the network’s newest campaign “Simple, Smart Ako.” Panlilio for his part explained that this new tagline sums up the company’s approach to make amazing technology available and more importantly, simple for every Filipino.

But Hyun Bin will not be the last Korean actor for Smart. When asked whether the company will be tapping other K actors, Panlilio said: “Captain Ri will be lonely if he is alone.”

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

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