Domestic Online Gambling Could Be Headed To The Philippines

The legal online gambling industry in the Philippines has been limited to POGOs for non-residents and offshore betting sites for those living in the islands.

That could be about to change.

After 2020 was a total wash – or, rather, a total dousing – for Philippine brick-and-mortar casinos in the Metro Manila area, PAGCOR – which has seen the nation’s gambling-related tax revenue fall by more than 90% this year – now seems open and receptive to the idea that Internet-based iGaming access should be expanded to residents of the islands.

Reportedly, the initiative to legalize iGaming for Philippines residents is being spurred along by the operators of the four major integrated resorts (IRs) in Manila’s famed Entertainment City.

The multibillion-dollar venues in question are City of Dreams, Okada, Resorts World, and Solaire. Between them, these businesses have lost a combined 271.4 million USD (13,072,116,700 PHP) in Q2 of 2020 alone.

And while these casinos can now operate at dramatically reduced capacities, unless things return to normal in a hurry, it could be ages before they make up that lost ground.

Before the Wuhan coronavirus hit the islands, the Philippines was primed to overtake Macau as the destination gambling capital of Asia. Now, it will be an uphill battle just to get back to where they were a year ago.

Expanding online gambling to the island’s approximately 65 million adult citizens and residents could make up for all those losses in short order, getting the industry back on track and injecting a massive tax revenue stream into the struggling nation’s economy.

And PAGCOR is listening.

Per the PH government’s gambling regulator:

During the lockdowns this year, proposals from operators of land-based properties to accept bets online from known patrons only were received by PAGCOR. Concerned departments are currently conducting studies related to the proposals.

Just the fact that the Philippines government is strongly considering the legalization of domestic online gambling is a major change from its previous stance, which saw President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly assure his citizens that there would be no such market for Filipinos under his watch.

But there is a caveat, as we must point out that the above proposal’s language is couched with substantial limitations to make it more palatable to the government.

The “known patrons” referenced above could signify only the elite, big-spending VIPs that – under normal circumstances – frequent Entertainment City’s world-class IRs. More broadly, however, it might refer to any customer that has qualified and is registered to play with these operators.

According to current Philippine gambling laws, Filipinos can only play at brick-and-mortar casinos if they provide documentation that they have a yearly income of at least 1033 USD (50,000 PHP).

Ostensibly, this is to satisfy the government’s desire that the nation’s poorest residents aren’t “wasting” money through gambling.

While this restriction would initially reduce dramatically the number of customers that these casinos’ online operations can serve, it’s at least a step in the right direction, and it has the added effect of showing good faith on the part of the gambling operators themselves.

These operators do not want to be viewed as predatory. They simply wish to offer the games their existing customers enjoy in a manner that is compatible with COVID-19 social distancing and prevention protocols.

Should online gambling be approved in this capacity, the door will be open to expanding it later, and the government could revisit the economic exclusion threshold for potential patrons.

One solution – of no doubt many – would be to institute a maximum monthly handle that any single player can turn when gambling online.

This is done in many other countries, where it seems to strike a balance between discouraging gambling addiction and allowing the citizenry the freedom to play their favorite games responsibly and in moderation.  

Of course, the Philippines’ online gambling stance has never actually precluded the nation’s gamblers from being able to play at legal online casinos or sportsbooks operating outside of the country’s borders.

Indeed, it has long been legal – and even encouraged – for Filipino bettors to play casino games and wager on sports over the Internet with legitimate, licensed offshore operators like BetOnline and other top-rated online gambling destinations.

Also, even if iGaming is approved on a limited or all-inclusive basis, it will still be possible for gamblers and punters in the Philippines to patronize the offshore betting sites they’re already used to.

In other words, those options aren’t going away.

And if you live in the Philippines, you can – and should – continue to take advantage of them.

By doing so, you limit your risk of exposure to COVID-19, and you can continue to play all the legal online blackjack, roulette, and other casino games you love. Plus, you can play all the real-money poker and bet on all the sports you want, too.

Speaking of sports betting, how about those Kings?