The Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators a.k.a. POGO represents a contentious sector of the Philippines’ business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. Since 2016, when incumbent Phillippine President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, POGO companies flourished and had fueled the growth of online gambling in the Asia Pacific Region.
The years thereafter had marked the phenomenal increase in participation among Asian gamblers in the world of online sports betting and casino gaming. It was noted that in 2017, global industry statistics reported that about 40 percent of the total bets wagered across all global betting sites, came from the Asian market.
Inasmuch as the foundations of the POGO outsourcing business are mainly gambling-related, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) was tasked to oversee the licensing and supervision of POGO companies. The purpose of this is to ensure that the gaming technologies, products, and gambling services offered by the POGO sector, met the global standards of fair, equitable, and responsible gambling.
Moreover, PAGCOR makes sure that the high-end land-based casino establishments of foreign investors will not suffer from stiff competition potentially posed by online gambling firms. An important licensing condition for POGO firms is to confine their outsourced gambling operations to countries outside of the Philippines.
The condition means POGO firms are barred from granting access to Filipino citizens whether residing locally or abroad, as well as to foreigners visiting the Philippines. Still, Philippine-based players are allowed to engage in online gambling, for as long as their betting or casino gaming sites are not operated by PAGCOR-licensed POGO firms.
The Magnitude of POGO Contributions in the Philippine Economy
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when President Duterte ordered a lockdown on non-essential businesses, PAGCOR did its part by suspending not only land-based casino operations but also POGO operations. However, a short while later, POGO operators made an appeal to PAGCOR Chief Andrea Domingo, to allow them to continue their foreign online gambling operations, even partially.
Margarita Gutierrez, spokesperson of the Accredited Service Providers of PAGCOR (ASPAP) had presented compelling arguments. Most of which were based on the revenues that POGO firms generate in helping the government raise funds needed, in addressing economic challenges faced by Philippine citizens during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Ms. Gutierrez argued that POGO companies are contributing as much as ₱94.7 billion per year to the country’s coffers. Aside from local taxes, which in the year 2018 and 2019, amounted to P22.40 billion, POGO firms make the following additional economic contributions:
- ₱34 billion to PAGCOR for BPO licensing and other fees.
- ₱9 billion to the Department of Labor and Employment for worker employment permits and other fees;
- P16.4 billion in wages paid to local staff plus the annual rental fees for offices and worker housing provisions, as well as the cost of living expenses incurred by foreign POGO workers.
Naturally, the arguments presented by Ms. Gutierrez on behalf of POGO companies had easily convinced the Philippine government to allow partial operations during the lockdown period. PAGCOR, once again dutifully carried out its role as regulator, by enumerating restrictions and prerequisites that must be in place as conditions to granting of its approval.
Aside from implementing measures to ensure the safety of workers, and from preventing the spread of the COVID 19 disease, PAGCOR required all POGO firms to update their licensing fees and to settle outstanding tax obligations.
Compliances with monetary requirements should be supported by a certification from the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
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