Marcos Is Back in the Philippines

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the former dictator, was elected president of the Philippines in a landslide victory last week, with Sara Duterte, daughter of the former president, to serve as vice president. What does the new administration mean for the country’s evolving gaming industry?

Marcos Is Back in the Philippines

On May 9, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was elected president of the Philippines in what has been described as a landslide victory.

Known by his childhood nickname of “Bongbong,” Marcos is the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., who was ousted from power in 1986 after more than two decades of authoritarian rule. Marcos Jr.’s vice president, Sara Duterte, is the daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte and also the current mayor of Davao City, a post her father once held.

The new administration will face a number of gaming-related challenges, among them:

  • The future of e-sabong, or online cockfighting, recently suspended by the current president
  • Whether to expand casino gaming on the holiday island of Boracay, another initiative of Rodrigo Duterte
  • The growth of Philippine Inland Gaming Operations (PIGO), launched in late 2020 as a response to the lockdown of casinos and e-cafes

Earlier this month, President Rodrigo Duterte called a halt to e-sabong after more than 30 people associated with the industry mysteriously disappeared. At the time, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said, “I’m very pleased with the decision to suspend the operation of e-sabong. While the government has been generating millions of pesos in revenues from this game, it has created dysfunctional families and instilled questionable morals among the people.”

Senator Grace Poe, chairwoman of the chamber’s public services committee, added, “Life and family are always of utmost importance. With the president’s order, we will be able to focus on giving justice to the missing people and their loved ones.”

The past president is known for his shifting views on gaming, and declared at the start of his term that he “hated” gambling. In 2017, Duterte banned casino operations on Boracay due to environmental concerns, called for a six-month cleanup, and rejected Galaxy Entertainment’s plan to build a $500 million integrated resort on the island. In 2021, he did an about-face and approved that project as a way to boost the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the time, he told lawmakers, “Forgive me for the contradiction. We don’t have money now,” and added he would find ways to generate revenue. “If it’s from gambling, so be it.”

The same mindset was behind the decision to authorize PIGO operations. According to the Philippine Star, industry leaders say the online industry has been a “lifesaver,” allowing gaming to continue among domestic players during the global health crisis.

The country also hosts Philippines Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO)s, which can be based in the country, but can only offer their services to offshore players.

According to Asia Gaming Brief, PIGO licensees say it’s hard for them to compete with black market operators due to taxation and other expenses that leave margins. Brian Ng, president of PhilWeb, which runs e-cafes in the country, said legal online bingo operators must fork over 55 percent of gross gaming revenue to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), which regulates gaming in the country—an expense illegal operators don’t have to pay—then pay a percentage to the venue operator to which the license is linked plus fees and royalties on software and platforms as well as corporate taxes.

Speaking at a recent AGB forum, Ng suggested that online bingo may not be commercially viable due to the high tax rate.

“The more discussion we have, whether in a closed or open format, is a step forward,” said Calvin Lim, CEO of DFNN in the same forum. “Regulation is the first step and now we need improvement of the regulation in order to make this a better operating environment that we’re in.”

All gaming in the country is overseen by PAGCOR. The state-run regulator, which also operates its own branded casinos, was founded in 1977 during the earlier Marcos presidency. At the beginning of the year, PAGCOR had 16 iGaming licensees listed on its website.

According to Yahoo News, Marcos and Duterte ran on a platform of national unity, calling themselves “Uniteam.” Marcos has denied reports of atrocities under his father’s regime; CNN said his rise followed “a decades-old rebranding campaign to revive the Marcos family’s name and image,” a campaign aided by social media.

Fatima Gaw of the Philippine Media Monitoring Laboratory called YouTube a “breeding ground” for videos that deny, distort or even justify the atrocities under Marcos Sr.

“They’ve been using a lot of influencers or content creators on YouTube, to peddle this fabricated narrative about the Marcos era being the golden age of the Philippines, that there was peace and order during the time,” said Gaw, assistant professor of communication research at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication.

After his ouster in a 1986 bloodless coup, the first Marcos fled to Hawaii after reportedly stealing between $5 billion and $10 billion from the country’s treasury.

The elder Marcos, however, was one of the founders of PAGCOR (Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corp.) in 1976, which is at once the principal regulator and also an operator of gaming enterprises across the nation. Efforts to strip PAGCOR of its operations and allow it to simply regulate gaming have been stymied because of the revenue it produces for the government.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte was also a controversial leader whose six years in office were marked by allegations of human rights violations and a “war on drugs” that reportedly involved thousands of killings without legal due process. Now it’s up to his successor to decide whether temporary gaming expansions in the wake of Covid-19 will continue. According to MSN, tourism industry leaders in the Philippines expect the sector to rebound this year amid easing lockdowns and quarantines.

A Manila Times webinar titled “PH Tourism: Where do we go from here” held late last month suggested that foreign arrivals could reach up to 1.3 million by the end of the year. The World Travel and Tourism Council recently reported that the Philippines’ tourism and travel industry started to bounce back in 2021 and could grow by 6.7 percent by 2032.