EDITORIAL - Social problems

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Social problems

Filipinos must be at least 21 years old to play in a casino. But there are no age restrictions for online gaming and the numerous numbers games such as jueteng and masiao that are illegal but continue to proliferate, because some of the biggest operators are local political kingpins.

So even adolescents, most of whom are familiar with gadgets, can gamble online, with cockfighting among the most popular. Online cockfighting or e-sabong has become a multibillion-peso enterprise, with little state regulation except for the need to secure a franchise and pay taxes.

A good indication of the lucrativeness of the enterprise is the reported involvement of police officers, whether retired or in active duty, in the operations. Government personnel are prohibited from playing in casinos and other gambling establishments, but such rules are vague when it comes to online gaming.

Cops are suspected of involvement in the disappearance of over 30 e-sabong aficionados in Metro Manila, Bulacan and Laguna since last year. Probers suspect that the kidnappings, several of which were caught on surveillance video, could be linked to cockfight game fixing.

Addressing the issue over the weekend, President Duterte expressed suspicion that the missing men had been killed and their remains burned. The President mentioned this as he acknowledged the “social problems” arising from a poorly regulated gambling activity.

He said he had ordered the Department of the Interior and Local Government to study the matter and come up with recommendations on what to do with e-sabong, which he has refused to stop, saying the government needs the P640 million in annual revenues collected from the games. If the earnings cited by the country’s e-sabong operators are accurate, however, that P640 million is a gross underpayment of what is due the government.

The President had cited the same need to collect taxes for rejecting calls, including requests from Beijing, to stop offshore gaming operated in the Philippines by Chinese firms and catering mostly to overseas Chinese, who are banned in their own country from online gambling.

Some lawmakers have pointed out that the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. has no authority to issue franchises to online gaming operations. Actual cockfights are under the supervision of local government units. With every aspect of e-sabong messed up, it should at least be suspended until clear regulations are in place or the President decides to abolish the online games.

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