Saving casinos?
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - November 30, 2018 - 12:00am

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) led by its chairman and chief executive officer Andrea D. Domingo ceremonially launched the state gaming agency’s latest public information campaign during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday at Café Adriatico in Malate. The PAGCOR campaign, which will run until 2019, is being carried in print, broadcast, online and social media. This is to reach the widest audience through different communication tools and platforms to underscore PAGCOR’s countless contributions to the government’s funding needs of its social services programs and projects for the Filipino people.

Over the past 30 years of PAGCOR’s existence, the agency has generously chipped in to national coffers and continues to be one of the government’s top revenue earners.

For this year alone, Domingo calculated PAGCOR is likely to hit more than P46 billion in gross revenues out of its shares from Filipino Casino operations, E-Bingo and games, online betting/gaming from registered POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations), junket operators and casino franchise fees from integrated resort (IR) establishments.

Under its charter, PAGCOR is required to remit to the Bureau of Treasury not less than 50% of its gross earning for the year. This is on top of the annual dividends the state agency turns over to the national government.

“Many people associate PAGCOR with gaming and casinos. But while operating and regulating games of chance are among our core mandates, our most important mission is often forgotten: to help build a stronger nation by generating revenues for the government,” the PAGCOR chief pointed out.

Accompanied by several members of the Board of Directors in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Domingo explained PAGCOR’s new campaign is hinged on the agency’s revenue-generating function which she woefully noted are not known and understood by most people.

Lately, PAGCOR is blamed for the proliferation of illegal online betting or unlicensed POGO that brought to the Philippines under their employ hundreds of Chinese who entered the country without proper working permits. A former Immigration Commissioner herself during the past administration, Domingo argued this is an immigration function and not PAGCOR’s jurisdiction.

Misconception about PAGCOR’s role, Domingo deplored, is also caused by fellow government officials. In particular, the Department of Education headed by Secretary Leonor Briones who raised “morality issues” in rejecting PAGCOR’s school-building fund assistance because they come from casino earnings.

“We intend to educate more Filipinos about PAGCOR’s programs that were designed to uplift the lives of less privileged Filipinos. It’s high time that the public realize our noble goals because all our efforts to surpass past achievements is for the good of our country,” the PAGCOR chief stressed.

She enumerated some of the major recipients of PAGCOR’s remittances that include the Early Childhood Care and Development, which receives P500 million annually; the Philippine Sports Commission, which receives P130 million a year or 5% of the agency’s revenues; the Dangerous Drugs Board, which receives P60 million annually; the Board of Claims, which receives 1% of PAGCOR’s earnings; shares of local governments in communities that “host” site where any Casino Filipino branch operates; and the Bureau of Internal Revenue which collects 5% franchise tax and other income taxes.

And lastly, PAGCOR turns over at least P100 million a month or P1.2 billion each year to the President’s Social Funds (PSF) that finance pet projects and socio-economic programs being supported by Malacañang.

Aside from its mandated beneficiaries, PAGCOR also implements self-initiated corporate social responsibility projects such as, among others, the relief missions for victims of various calamities and the donation of computers, backpacks with school supplies and hygiene kits to public school students.

The PAGCOR chief disclosed she has asked President Rpdrigo Duterte to recalibrate his total ban policy declaration on putting up new casino operations in the Philippines.

Domingo is worried over the impact of the presidential declaration imposing “moratorium” against the grant of new casino franchise in the Philippines. This is because, she pointed out, our neighbors like Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Macau and China offer sites for IR investors putting up their own family entertainment-oriented resorts with casino and gaming operations in their respective countries.

A minimum of $300 million in capital is needed to put up an IR complex. “This is not hot money that goes in and out of the country but sunken investment,” she pointed out.

These countries, Domingo noted, are merely copying PAGCOR as their model in its effective mechanisms to protect public welfare from the evils of gambling addiction and other safeguards, the most recent of which is being covered by the new Anti-Money Laundering Act. Under PAGCOR’s wings, at least 40 state-run Casino Filipino  are operating in various parts of the Philippines and remit as much as P26 billion. This does not include the 13 IRs that last year turned over P20 billion in revenues for PAGCOR.

The biggest of these IR establishments include the casinos at the Resort World Manila; City of Dreams Manila-Integrated Resort, Hotel & Casino; Solaire Resort & Casino; and Okada Manila. When the “moratorium” was imposed, the casino deal of PAGCOR with Galaxy in Boracay and Landings of the Nayong Pilipino were among those scuttled. However, Domingo clarified PAGCOR’s franchise deals with the two casino operators are merely on hold until President Duterte decides with finality. 

According to her, President Duterte instructed her to submit policy recommendation that will clearly spell out her proposed recalibrated PAGCOR policy to ensure it will not result to new casino establishments more than what the Philippines could accommodate. 

Thus, it is not about saving the casinos, Domingo stressed. But she could only pray that she and PAGCOR would not be sued in courts.

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