Many forms of gambling are popular in the Philippines, and since 1976 the state has chosen to avoid the pitfalls of prohibition by licensing and regulating those forms of gambling it deems acceptable.
This gives 101-million Filipinos access to all kinds of land-based gaming operations under the aegis of the Philippine Amusement and Gambling Corporation, PAGCOR, or the independent Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport in the north.
These options include wagering on horseracing, cock fighting, jai alai and other sports betting, sweepstakes, lotteries and keno, as well as all sorts of casino games in 23 licensed casinos, almost all of them located around Manila.
Because there is no law specifically prohibiting casino gambling online, Filipinos are also free to play their favourite casino games via the Internet, but only at operations licensed in foreign jurisdictions. Anomalously, Cagayan authorities do license online operations, but only non-Filipinos can access these sites to enjoy casino gambling online.
The way the law stands, for casino gambling online at sites based within the Philippines to be legally accessible to Filipinos, PAGCOR would need the government to pass a bill allowing the corporation to license and regulate such operations. It is the only authority in the southern part of the country allowed to regulate gambling games, so no other gaming company could operate without its approval.
At present, although PAGCOR licenses various e-games cafes across the country, and allows both foreigners and Filipinos to play at its land-based casinos, it has no presence in casino gambling online.
In the north, where Cagayan administers all gaming, Philippine citizens are barred from both land-based casinos and those sites licensed by the Freeport for casino gambling online. They exist purely to serve the tourist market and international visitors to the Cagayan-registered online casino Philippines has on offer.
Of course, these anomalies do not stop ardent casino fans in both the north and south of the country from accessing casino gambling online; they simply play at foreign-registered sites, quite legally. Why this isn’t necessarily in the best interests of the Philippines is obvious after a little thought.
The reason Philippine authorities opted to license and regulate gambling in the first place, rather than prohibit it, was the revenue it brings in. Profits on state-owned casinos can be ploughed back into social spending.
The revenue available from casino gambling online far surpasses the land-based take, so it makes no sense to social programmes if that revenue goes to private casinos internationally, and not the Philippine state.
In June, 2016, newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte told his first cabinet meeting that he wanted to ban all casino gambling online, and revoke all licenses issued, even for online operations catering to foreigners only. Given that this will drive online gaming underground and nudge the Philippines’ online casino fans towards dodgier operations, this doesn’t seem like an effective strategy.
It is to be hoped that further discussion and research will encourage the government of the Philippines to move in another direction, and instead make casino gambling online legal, fair and safe for all Filipinos.