Freeman Cebu Business

POGOs must go?

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos - The Freeman

Triggered by a spate of kidnapping of Chinese nationals, there is a strong clamor from certain sectors and politicians about the operation of POGOs (or Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) in the country recently. That this government must take immediate action. That these POGOs must be discontinued and that we must send their employees (Chinese nationals) home.

Whether that is the appropriate solution in solving the kidnapping incidences, we don’t know. Certainly though, shutting them would mean loss of billions of regulatory fees that PAGCOR earns and franchise taxes that the Bureau of Internal Revenue collects. Needless to say, we shall be left with hectares of vacant office spaces. Worse, the “office-adjacent economy” will also take a hit as restaurants, coffee shops, etc. will also take a beating. Lots of rented houses, apartments and condo units will also miss their tenants. Worse, joblessness in the country will surely rise as these POGOs and the affected businesses will no longer need them.

This is a sad development. To recall, several years ago, when President Trump won in the US 2016 election, there was that threat that the outsourced jobs of US companies in the Philippines might be brought back to their home country.  That was a campaign promise of then Pres. Trump and that was then a real threat. If it pushed through, our government should have lost billions in revenue and thousands of jobs in the BPO sector.

With such threat clearly put forward then, in chorus, some of our countrymen told us not to worry at all because the POGOs can certainly replace them. Now, the tables are turned.  Instead of the BPOs leaving, POGOs are asked to go. What can replace POGOs? Or do we really know how POGOs operate?

To those who may not be aware of it, PAGCOR conceptualized Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) to enable our government to take a lion share of the growing online gaming market.  Previously unregulated, PAGCOR, in 2016, issued rules and regulations covering the operations of POGOs.

As PAGCOR puts it, “POGO refers to an entity that offers and participates in offshore gaming services by providing games to players, taking bets, and paying the winning players. The gaming activity refers to online games of chance through the internet, using a network and software, exclusively for offshore-authorized players who have registered and established an online gaming account with the PAGCOR-licensed POGO. Filipino citizens, even while overseas, are not allowed to play.” PAGCOR emphasized too that it can “issue a POGO license to qualified operators, which could be Filipino-based operators or foreign-based operators.”

Clearly, in POGOs, we can easily single out, at least, two very significant features. First, that it is not for Filipinos and that even those overseas cannot play. Secondly, that even foreign-based operators can be issued license by PAGCOR.

That is why there are so many Chinese nationals working in the country today. Most of them are in POGOs. The reason is very simple and straightforward. That these POGOs’ target market are Chinese. So, who can easily interact with their market? Of course, the Chinese employees. That’s a no brainer. Needless to say, therefore, most of their employees are Chinese.  There are Filipino employees though. Mostly, they are office staff and janitors.  

There are POGOs though that are providers of live contents of card games like poker and baccarat. These type of POGOs employ Filipino ladies as card dealers and some Filipino technicians. 

Clearly, POGO operation is too simple. In fact, it is difficult to comprehend why the spate of kidnappings is directly linked to it. Probably though, there are those that are unregistered or are illegally operating and the owners and their employees (Chinese nationals) have become vulnerable. With such precarious situation, there could be some enterprising Chinese nationals (probably, in cohorts with Filipinos) who are taking advantage of their compatriots’ vulnerability by kidnapping them for money. 

If this is so, then, the most logical thing to do is to close illegal POGO outlets. More importantly, our law enforcers must run after these kidnappers. 

More importantly, as explained earlier, POGOs are for foreigners, not for Filipinos.  Therefore, unlike “e-sabong” which impoverished low-income earning Filipinos and rendered OFWs penniless, POGOs don’t.

Hence, legal POGOs should stay and “e-sabong” must permanently go.

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