Cabaero: Pogo issues and other online gaming

Beyond 30
SunStar Cabaero
SunStar Cabaero

Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogo) have been in the news lately, with a Senate investigation into a town mayor’s gambling links resurrecting calls for a ban on this form of online gambling.

But why focus solely on Pogo? Why not delve into other online gambling activities that are easily accessible in the country, causing some Filipinos to become addicted to playing slot machines and similar games on their phones with real money? Bets can be as low as P1 per spin, with the potential winnings running into the hundreds of pesos.

While Pogo’s online gaming activities are limited to customers outside the Philippines, the online games accessed here offer the same services, including live streaming of women as online gambling dealers. Pogo’s target clients are in China, where gambling is illegal, and online gambling serves as a way for them to bypass the ban.

The Senate inquiry is focused on Bamban town Mayor Alice Guo’s citizenship and alleged links to illegal gambling, following raids on Pogo hubs, including one adjacent to the Bamban, Tarlac, town hall. Guo’s citizenship and lineage were questioned due to suspicions that the mayor was a Chinese citizen placed in Bamban town to participate in local government and aid Pogo operations. Guo denied these allegations, saying she is Filipino, holds a Philippine passport, and her Pogo dealings were strictly business conducted before she became mayor.

Media reports have highlighted Chinese employees brought to work in these Pogo establishments on tourist visas. In their free time, they gamble and end up in debt. They resort to loan sharks who offer to lend them money but, when they are unable to pay their loans, these sharks kidnap them and demand ransom from their families in China.

In a raid on a Pogo operation in Pasay City last year, police discovered a torture chamber, an aquarium-style viewing chamber, and massage parlors allegedly used for prostitution. The raid in Bamban, Tarlac, last March was because of a complaint for human trafficking and serious illegal detention filed by a Vietnamese national.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian filed this month a bill to repeal the taxability of offshore gaming in the country as provided by Republic Act 11590 which was signed into law by then President Rodrigo Duterte. In the House, the committee on games and amusement approved last February a bill seeking to stop Pogo. The bill was authored by Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr.

Pogo clients are those outside the country, but there are plenty of online gaming activities available to Filipinos on their mobile phones. The players are not the well-off; they place bets as low as P1 in the hope of big wins for small bets.

Legislators might as well investigate other online gambling in the country because such virtual games are not limited to use by Chinese nationals but can also be accessed by workers, drivers, kasambahays, and maybe even minors.

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