Several Southeast Asian countries that invested in land based casinos to boost their tourism industry suffered from fallouts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic Yet one Southeast Asian country that benefited from the turn of events is the Philippines. Mainly because several years prior to the pandemic, the country had established itself as a regulatory haven for Asia-facing online gambling operators, officially known as POGOs (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators).
Through its economic zones and gambling regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the Philippine government allowed numerous existing providers like Playtech and Realtime Gaming to establish their base of operations on Philippine soil so they can better serve their Asian customers. The move also encouraged numerous Asian entrepreneurs to invest in online gambling products, services and technologies.
Playtech and Real Time Gaming, by the way, provide the online casino games offered by a popular Asian online casino which mainly operates by way of downloadable mobile phone applications
At the height of the global pandemic lockdowns, several POGOs were able to obtain PAGCOR’s approval in allowing them to operate and keep their online casino sites running. PAGCOR’s grant of approval however, depended on a POGO’s compliance with the health and safety measures and more importantly, on up-to-date payment of regulatory fees and tax obligations. After all, the ensuing lockdown measure imposed globally was an opportunity that POGOs could not let pass, as Asian gamblers were showing increased interests in online gambling entertainment.
Success of PAGCOR POGOs Spurred Calls for Increased Taxation Among Philippine Lawmakers
In 2019, the Philippines had established itself as a world leader in regulated online gambling, for being able to collect as much Php 8 billion (USD 164.3 million) in revenues from POGOs. In seeing the profitability of the POGO industry, several Philippine lawmakers called for proposals to increase the tax rates imposed on offshore online gambling operators.
However, the move elicited warning from PAGCOR President and Chief Operating Office, Alfredo C Lim, for the government to refrain from overtaxing POGOs as doing so would drive away offshore gambling operators. Mr. Lim asserted that in addition to taxes on offshore gaming revenues, the Philippines is also benefiting from rentals of high-end commercial space and availability of local employment opportunities.
PAGCOR and Its POGOs are Currently Dealing with Declining Revenues
True enough since the economies of neighboring Asian countries have been hurt by the pandemic, even POGOs are experiencing decline in revenues. PAGCOR’s latest report stated that POGO revenues had plummeted by as much as 80%. That is why only 111 of the 218 accredited POGO firms operating in the country were able to secure clearance from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
A BIR clearance denotes that all fees and taxes due, including the monthly regulatory fees collected by PAGCOR, have been settled. PAGCOR continued to require it as a condition before they can resume operations, after the government eased down on lockdown orders for nonessential businesses
Moreover, Jose Tria, PAGCOR’s AVP for Offshore Gaming Licensing, reported that as many as 42 online gambling service providers have withdrawn their PAGCOR accreditation, another five (5) POGO licenses were canceled, while five (5) other licenses are currently suspended.
As a result, the monthly regulatory fees collected from POGOs that usually amounted to Php 600 million (US$12.4 million) is now down to nearly half, or Php 300 million (US$6.2 million). As several POGO offices are now closing down, even the related income from real estate leases and other businesses that benefited from POGO foreign workers, are reporting declines in revenue.