Amid rising criminal concerns

Philippine authorities intensify crackdown on illegal offshore gambling operations

Alejandro Tengco, Chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor)
Reading time 1:32 min

Philippine authorities are intensifying efforts to shut down illegal offshore gambling operators, many of which are reportedly managed by Chinese firms, amid rising concerns over their alleged ties to criminal syndicates.

On Thursday, Alejandro Tengco, Chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), revealed that approximately 250 to 300 offshore gambling firms are operating without a license in the Philippines. This figure vastly outnumbers the 46 legitimate gaming operators in the country.

"Together with the police, we search for these illegal operators, conduct raids and shut them down," Tengco said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

The online gaming industry has been growing in the Philippines since its emergence in 2016, benefiting from the country’s liberal gaming laws to attract customers from China, where gambling is prohibited.

At its peak, the Philippine offshore gambling operators (Pogos) industry consisted of 300 firms employing over 300,000 Chinese workers. However, the pandemic and stricter tax regulations have forced many operators to either leave the country or operate underground, according to Tengco.

The crackdown comes in response to increasing reports of crimes associated with Pogos, including human trafficking, torture, kidnapping, and various forms of fraud such as credit card scams, cryptocurrency investment scams, and “love scams,” where criminals use fake online identities to deceive victims into sending them money.

In a significant raid in March, law enforcement officers targeted a Pogo facility in Pampanga province, rescuing more than 800 workers, including both Filipino and Chinese nationals, as reported by local media.

The issue has also caught the attention of security officials. Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro highlighted the national security concerns posed by criminal syndicates masquerading as Pogos. "The concern is that we should stop these syndicated criminal activities operating out of our base, which weaken our financial standing, our country ratings, (and) corrupt our society," Teodoro said in a statement on Wednesday.

The National Security Council has also emphasized the necessity of addressing illegal Pogo activities to protect the country's security and integrity.

Tengco mentioned that Pagcor will adhere to the government’s final decision regarding the future of Pogos, which might include a complete ban on the industry. Despite the ongoing crackdown, the government is projected to earn 24.5 billion pesos ($417 million) this year from Pogo fees and taxes collected from the 46 licensed operators, half of which are Chinese firms.

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