Govt losing revenues with unclear online gaming policies—Escudero

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UNLESS the government resolves the issue on what agency should regulate the country’s online gaming sector it will continue to lose its legal share of revenues from internet gambling, Senator Francis Escudero said.

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Escudero noted that at present there is no clear policy on who is regulating online gaming in the country and this is why there is a pending case before the Supreme Court (SC) questioning the legal basis of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) supervising offshore gambling.
Escudero said Pagcor’s position is “a question of correct interpretation of the law” that needs to be clarified and decided on with finality.

“We need to address this issue so we can finally plug the loopholes in foregone revenues from offshore gaming and put to rest the issue of the legality or illegality of its operation in the country” Escudero said at a news forum on Thursday.

Pagcor is asserting authority over online gambling in the country based on a statement it issued that all online licensing “fall within the bound of its charter to operate, authorize and license games of chance, games of cards and games of numbers in the Philippines.”

Escudero explained that when the state-run gambling operator was created under Presidential Decree No. 1602, the concept of gaming in its charter is territorial and land-based only. Internet or online gambling was not included because nobody was aware of it at that time, he added.

Online gaming was only included during the framing of the CEZA (Cagayan Economic Zone Authority) and APECO (Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority) charters and it was used by Pagcor as basis for issuing licenses to online gaming operators.

Currently, there are 200 online gaming operators in the country registered mostly in CEZA and Pagcor gave out another 35 licenses that also allows each operator to issue 10 sub-licenses.

Pargor is charging applicants $50,000 in application and processing fees for e-casino and $40,000 for sports betting. This, despite the pending cases in the SC questioning PAGCOR’s authority over online gambling operation in the country.

Aside from the application and processing fees, applicants must also pay Pagcor $200,000 for an e-casino license and $150,000 for a sports betting license upon approval of their application.

During the blue ribbon committee hearing on the bribery/extortion scandal involving online gambling tycoon Jack Lam, Escudero asked Pagcor what would happen to the payments they received from applicants in case the SC ruled against their authority to handle online gambling.

Pagcor officials present at the hearing could not give the committee a clear answer aside from saying that applicants will not be able to get a refund for the application and processing fees.

Escudero, who chairs the senate committee on banks, financial institutions and currencies, said the only way to resolve the legality of online gambling is for Pagcor to come up with a proposed measure that would include online gaming to its scope of authority.

The senator noted that in online gaming, the games are here but the bettors are outside of the country and there is no clear way to monitor the operations and how he operators should pay the government. Jefferson Antiporda

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