Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, or POGOs, have mushroomed in key centers the Philippines, sharply driving up real estate prices and luring thousands of Chinese workers here.
POGOS employees are ubiquitous in major shopping malls, restaurants and drinking bars. One can have the feeling that they are a new wave of tourists or immigrants, who will be a permanent fixture in urban centers and carve their own lifestyle in the Philippines.
Major property companies have taken advantage of the office and residential demands from POGOS and their workers by offering more leasing spaces, while the government took notice of their operations and began collecting income taxes from what seem to be a lucrative operation.
The Philippine economy in general is benefiting from the POGOS—they contribute to consumer spending, boost the coffers of the government in terms of tax collections and create a more vibrant real estate sector.
But all is not well in POGOS. China, on the other side of the West Philippine Sea, has urged the Philippines to ban all online gambling operations in the country that were illegally recruiting Chinese citizens.
While welcoming the decision of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. to suspend the issuance of new applications for POGOs, Beijing requested Manila to ban all online gambling as it did in the homeland.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila expressed grave concern over a large number of Chinese citizens who had been illegally recruited to work in the Philippine gambling industry, with some lured into working with only tourist visas.
Beijing also noted that a huge amount of Chinese funds were “illegally flown out” of China and into the Philippines through cross-border money laundering. It says the situation “undermines China’s financial supervision and financial security.”
Senator Joel Villanueva, chairman of the Senate labor committee, meanwhile, urged the Philippine government to address the unintended consequences of the rise of POGOS. He cited an increase in crimes involving foreign nationals, including money laundering, and the heightened threats of espionage that may affect national security. The Philippine National Police has already recorded 53 casino-related kidnappings since 2017 and arrested 120 Chinese nationals.
POGOS are a relatively new industry in the Philippines. Authorities should weigh their benefits to the economy and the potential harm they pose on the local social structure.