Pagcor chair Andrea Domingo said Malacañang would issue an executive order to settle the matter after the President lashed out anew against online gambling companies. Photo by JOEY VIDUYA

Pagcor clarifies ban on online gambling
Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - December 24, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) clarified yesterday only unlicensed online gaming companies would be covered by President Duterte’s closure order.

Pagcor chair Andrea Domingo said Malacañang would issue an executive order to settle the matter after the President lashed out anew against online gambling companies.

Domingo also said all applications for online gaming would go through Pagcor.

Listed gaming companies were also quick to clarify the issue.

PhilWeb Corp., which businessman and former trade minister Roberto Ongpin sold to Gregorio Ma. Araneta III, son-in-law of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, said it was not engaged in online gaming.

“PhilWeb is a software provider to Pagcor for its network of e-Games outlets… PhilWeb’s software cannot be played from homes or offices,” PhilWeb corporate information officer Raymund Aquino said.

According to Aquino, each e-Games outlet is owned by an individual entrepreneur whose gaming license is issued directly to them by Pagcor.

“Each e-Games outlet therefore pays all taxes as does PhilWeb itself,” Aquino also said.

PhilWeb is currently in the process of renewing its license with Pagcor since this expired in August.

It has not been able to renew its license after Duterte singled out Ongpin, then chairman of PhilWeb, as an oligarch who must be destroyed.

PhilWeb is behind e-Games, which are internet cafés exclusively dedicated to casino games. With technology provided by PhilWeb, patrons can choose from more than 300 casino games, including baccarat, blackjack, various slot machine games, video poker and sports betting.

There are currently 268 operating e-Games cafés across the country, a majority of which are owned and operated by independent entrepreneurs.

Another listed gaming company, DFNN, cited its existing licenses and said “the President’s remarks pertain to online gaming that is not under the supervision of Pagcor.”

“The DFNN Group through its investee subsidiaries has multiple existing valid licenses under the state gaming regulator,” the firm said.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II also said Duterte might only be referring to online gaming firms that violated the law when he announced that he would like online gambling operations shut down.

Aguirre cited the case of Chinese gaming operator Jack Lam and other “outright” violators as examples of those whose companies must be closed.

Others that are complying with Pagcor regulations “have nothing to fear,” he said.

Aguirre also said Duterte was set to sign an EO appointing him as head of the Online Task Force intended to police online gambling activities in the country.

The EO will cover the extent of authority and power of the task force.

In a speech in Malacañang on Thursday, Duterte ordered the closure of all online gambling firms, saying the government was not getting proper taxes from their operations, including bets collected from other countries.

Don’t look at us

As this developed, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) has washed its hands of the granting of online gaming licenses as alleged by Duterte, saying the agency never dealt with any form of gambling operation in its industrial zones.

“May I be allowed to inform the President that online gaming or online gambling or any form of gambling operation is not registrable with PEZA and is not allowed by PEZA,” PEZA director general Charito Plaza said in a letter addressed to Duterte in response to the President’s speech on Thursday implying that Lam and his group were in cahoots with corrupt PEZA officials in locating their operations inside the economic zones.

Plaza, who was appointed in September this year to head the country’s top investment promotion agency, also clarified to the President in her letter that Clark Freeport Zone, where Lam was operating, was not administered by PEZA.

She noted that Clark Freeport is administered by the Clark Development Corp., a unit of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority.

“We wish to assure the President that his policy of not registering online gaming or online gambling in PEZA will not change and will continue as PEZA is one with the President in his conviction that any form of online gaming or online gambling will not benefit the country and the Filipino people,” Plaza said.

“We have recognized and will continue to recognize that Pagcor has the sole and exclusive authority to grant franchises and regulate gambling operations in the entire country,” she added. – With Evelyn Macairan, Richmond Mercurio, Paolo Romero

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