Senate POGO probers seek more data from Pagcor on ‘road map’

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SENATORS on Wednesday grilled gaming regulators on the government’s roadmap for the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), which policymakers are under pressure to ban altogether owing to concerns that social costs outweigh the economic benefits.

At the last hearing on the controversy by two Senate committees, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, probe co-chairman, pressed the legal counsel of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) for more details on the basis of their projections for growing state revenues from POGO to the “optimal” level before the pandemic, when lockdowns caused revenue to plunge.

Pagcor presented a 4-page “roadmap” with short-, medium- and long-term goals, with a target of hitting P10 billion by year 2027.

Gatchalian, chairman of the Ways and Means committee, sought more details, however, on Pagcor’s projections, particularly on the profile of the countries of origin of POGO customers. He noted that China, the main source of customers and main source of POGO workers, has always declared online gaming illegal; hence, harsher moves by Beijing to enforce such policy could pose risks to Pagcor by way of declining revenue if, for example, China halts the outflow of dollars.

It appeared that one basis for Pagcor’s optimism is that in the Asean, the Philippines is now the only one allowing online gaming operator, and hence, it is aiming for “100 percent” market share in the region.

Gatchalian wanted to know, however, the rest of Pagcor’s projections for a global scale, beyond Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Gatchalian pointed to the danger of losing foreign direct investments (FDI) as the fallout from the “reputational risk” to the Philippines of being unable to control crime associated with POGO, and other social costs.

Former Finance Secretary Gary Teves, whom the senator invited as resource person, said the “signal will have to be very clear” to other countries once the Philippines makes a firm decision on whether or not to totally phase out POGOS.

Teves, echoing earlier warnings by property experts like David Leechiu, said there will be a big economic impact if the total ban “is implemented right away without a phaseout mechanism.” Such impact will be felt on revenue and jobs, he said.

Appearing for the second time before the joint panels, Leechiu on Wednesday said the so-called glut in the property market—which some quarters feared would lead to a bubble if POGOs are abruptly banned in whole—had actually begun in 2015 and would have caused serious disruptions if the POGO sector had not come along.

While acknowledging its social costs, Leechiu said the contribution of POGOs to the economy should be weighed carefully. He had noted before that the property sector accounts for a substantial share of the listed firms in the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE).

Dela Rosa’s concern: Data

For his part, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, chairman of the Peace and Order committee which is jointly conducting the POGO inquiry, meanwhile grilled officials on the social cost of POGOs.

Dela Rosa questioned the basis for citing “continuing vulnerabilities” when police data have shown a total halt to POGO-related crime since the surge in such incidents spurred a full investigation by the police and the NBI, alongside the Senate investigation.

Dela Rosa also asked concerned officials how they quantify social cost, adding, “we should have solid data” on this, so as not to be stampeded into a solution.

The senator clarified that he is neither “pro-POGO nor anti-POGO” but simply wants to make sure the claims of social costs are based on solid data. He alluded to the earlier Senate investigation on the evils of e-sabong, the suspension of which he had pushed on account of the glaring social cost—the disappearance of over 30 people associated with electronic cockfights, and who remain missing until now.