This week brings a disturbing report from the Philippines that two employees of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) had been fired for alleged abuse of their regulatory and licensing authority. The report stated that they had been “linked” to corrupt activity within PAGCOR.
Is Firing over a “Link” an Abuse of Power?
It is not a trivial matter to be fired from one’s job because there is an apparent “link” between your activities and corrupt activities within the organization you work for. The classic term for such an attitude on the part of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is “guilt by association”. President Duterte made it clear that these would not be the only firings of PAGCOR employees.
Some have pointed out that President Donald Trump and his election campaign have been “linked” to foreign interference in the American electoral process, that the matter has been under investigation for more than a year, and that no one has yet been fired because of a chimeric “link”.
PAGCOR regulates the online casino industry in the Philippines. The reports made the firings seem like a battle over a technicality similar to when a gamer accidentally enters the wrong bonus codes trying to access casino bonuses. PAGCOR granted a gambling license to the operator of a free port. According to all sides in the dispute, the terms of the agreement through which the person operates the free port include the possibility of also being granted a gambling license. President Duterte fired the two employees because they had granted a gambling license outside their area of jurisdiction.
Licenses to Foreigners
President Duterte has long been opposed to legalized gambling. He also has accepted the cultural desire to gamble but tries to keep gambling at a minimum. Land based gambling cafes are allowed as long as they are a minimum distance from a church or school.
The reports specifically stated that Duterte was especially upset that the two employees had granted 75 year licenses to foreigners to run gambling operations in the Philippines. The president didn’t explain why he was upset by the licenses awarded to foreigners. Some indications were that he was more upset at the length of the licenses.
Above the Fray
President Duterte has long portrayed himself as the ultimate incorruptible politician. He fired an official for consulting the president’s wife on a matter. Duterte said that his family is not involved in government at any level and thus should not be sought out to unduly influence the president.
President Duterte is fighting against the tendency on the part of politicians and functionaries to use political influence to enrich themselves. He forced the resignations of Moslemen Macarambon from the Department of Justice and Timgagun Umpa from the Department of Public Works and Highways. Macarambon was accused of helping illegal smuggling of jewels through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the latter was accused of asking for kickbacks from approved road construction projects.
President Duterte has also suspended many officials implicated in other illicit activities.
PAGCOR has stated that its mission is to make the Philippines the leading East Asian gambling destination. This is the goal despite the president’s strong opposition to gambling. The example set by Singapore has won favor in the eyes of many Philippine officials who are as opposed to gambling as is the president.
This is the Integrated Resort concept. This concept places a casino within a campus that would include many non-gambling attractions such as a convention center, high level hotels, theaters, a range of restaurants from fast food to high end, family oriented attractions such as amusement parks and water parks, swimming pools, arcades, shopping areas, and more. In this type of environment, the casino is not the central attraction. Families and convention goers could come and never even enter the casino.
This is the exact opposite casino model to the one used in Las Vegas and many other places where the casino is the big attraction; where hotel patrons have to walk through the casino to get to the hotel’s front desk.
In the view of the advocates of the Integrated Resort concept, a campus with all of the above amenities would be worthwhile even without the casino, making the casino something of an afterthought to many visitors.
In February, under orders from the president, PAGCOR suspended applications for new casinos in the Philippines. President Duterte said at the time that there are already too many casinos in the country.
As it is in many countries, the online gambling business in the Philippines is clouded in vagueness. Technically, it is illegal to operate an online casino in the Philippines but it is not illegal for Filipino citizens to gamble at a casino located offshore.
There are several online casinos that offer games to Filipinos.
In the end, the need for tax revenue from online casino gaming may convince the authorities and President Duterte that online gaming is essentially the same as land based gaming.