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Philippines: Skewed priorities puts POGOs ahead of community support

By - 9 November 2020

The Philippine government skews its priorities by allowing Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) to re-open in May, despite most non-essential industries closing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the government struggles to provide relief to the poor, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) Chief Executive Officer Andrea Domingo confirmed in several radio interviews that POGOs, run mostly by Chinese businessmen, will give the much needed cash.

“POGOs will earn significant revenues without the risk of spreading Covid-19.” Domingo said in an interview with DZMM.

There are around 60 POGOs, most of which resumed operations so long as they comply with all requirements. Domingo said 30 per cent of the total workforce of POGOs will be allowed to report for work, provided concerned companies settle unpaid taxes and workers are guaranteed to be healthy.

POGOs also need to provide shuttle services for employees, conduct temperature checks, ensure physical distancing is observed, and provide masks.

Employees who have tested positive for Covid-19 or are suspected cases will not be allowed to work. Immunocompromised individuals and pregnant women will not be allowed to get back to work.

Domingo also said that POGOs are technically Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies. BPOs have been allowed to operate during the Luzon- wide lockdown.

“The bettors, like the clients of BPOs, are overseas. The platform and service providers, like BPOs, are here in the country.” Domingo said.
PAGCOR said POGOs employ 31,556 Filipinos.

“Partial opening of POGOs will create ripples in economic activity, such as the real estate industry which has earned approximately P25bn on leaseholds and rentals alone, as POGOs occupy 1m sq.m of office space,” PAGCOR said in a statement.

PAGCOR has repeatedly sent press releases that POGOs have donated at least P150m to efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The Philippine government currently earns billions from various fees and taxes from POGOs. PAGCOR said POGOs contributed P5.7bn in 2019 and P1.8bn in the first quarter of 2020.

PAGCOR reported gaming revenues of P75.75bn in 2019, 11.7 per cent higher than the P67.9bn in 2018. In 2018, PAGCOR’s total revenues stood at P104.1bn, but the agency clarified that P32.7bn of it came from its sale of land to a subsidiary of Bloomberry Resorts Group.

PAGCOR was able to remit over P56bn to the government because of strong earnings last year. However, the industry is hounded by issues linked to tax evasion, money laundering, sex trafficking, and kidnapping.

Ralph Rivas, business reporter at Rappler. He reports on macroeconomy, government finance, companies and agriculture and has written many news and investigative reports about PAGCOR and POGOs.

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