Philippine Officials Pledge to Shut Down Illegal POGOs

The Philippines gaming regulator says up to 300 unlicensed offshore gambling operators may be doing business in the country, with some involved in criminal activities. Officials are strengthening efforts to shut them down.

Philippine Officials Pledge to Shut Down Illegal POGOs

Philippine law enforcement and the country’s gaming regulator have stepped up efforts to curb illegal online gambling following allegations that some are tied to crimes including kidnapping, human trafficking and online scams.

“Together with the police, we search for these illegal operators, conduct raids and shut them down,” said Alejandro Tengco, chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), in an interview with Reuters.

According to the news outlet, the industry launched in 2016 under former president Rodrigo Duterte and “grew exponentially as operators capitalized on the country’s liberal gaming laws.” Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) flourished by targeting players in mainland China, where gambling is illegal.

Tengco said the pandemic and stricter rules drove some operators underground, and conceded that 250 to 300 illegal operators may now be doing business in the country, including some run by Chinese firms.

The March raid of a POGO facility in Pampanga province led to the rescue of more than 800 workers, both Chinese and Filipino, and the suspension of Bamban, Tarlac Mayor Alice Guo, who was implicated in criminal activity there.

According to the Philippine Star, Guo and alleged co-conspirators could face money laundering and human trafficking charges. In another raid in Pasay City in October, police uncovered evidence that workers had been forced into prostitution and subjected to torture.

In a statement, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said “these syndicated criminal activities … weaken our financial standing, our country ratings (and) corrupt our society.”

Teodoro also said Beijing could be supporting illegal POGOs to undermine “our political, economic, social and peace and order fabric. The most effective way of weakening your enemy is to cause trouble in its country.” The Chinese Embassy in Manila has not yet responded to the accusation.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, an outspoken critic of POGOs, has called for an “immediate ban” on the industry. “In addition to the proliferation of heinous crimes associated with POGOs,” he said, “the industry has raised serious national security concerns that must be addressed promptly and with strong political will.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada agreed. “Aside from security concerns raised on POGO operations near our military bases,” he said, “reports on some 250 others operating without licenses should prompt our concerned authorities to conduct a crackdown on these illegal entities.”

Tengco says PAGCOR will comply with any government order to shut down the industry, but defends the legal operators who contribute millions each year in fees and taxes to the government. Today, 46 POGOs operate legally in the country, down from about 300 at the dawn of the industry. They are now called Internet Gaming Licensees, or IGLs.

“Our licensees pay taxes and they help provide legitimate jobs and livelihood to a lot of people,” Tengco said in recent comments. He added that “the real threat” is in “alien hacking and scam syndicates who operate underground … they are the ones that our law enforcement agencies are trying to locate and dismantle. And we are cooperating fully with the authorities in this regard.”