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The Philippines Moves Closer to Banning Entire POGO Gaming Segment

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The Philippines is poised for a major shift in its online gambling landscape, as a key House committee has voted to ban all Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs). This decision marks the culmination of growing concerns over the past five years regarding the rampant and violent criminal activity linked to POGOs.

POGOs No Longer Welcome

On Monday, the House Games and Amusements Committee gave the green light to two measures: House Bill 5082, which officially outlaws POGO operations and deems them illegal, and House Resolution 1197, which urges the government to implement a comprehensive ban. These proposals were championed by Representatives Bienvenido Abante and Rufus Rodriguez, respectively, who cited the government's repeated failures to effectively regulate POGOs despite numerous attempts over the past five years.

The decision comes amid a litany of disturbing reports linking POGOs to various criminal activities. Authorities have repeatedly uncovered evidence of POGO involvement in human trafficking, prostitution, fraud, torture, kidnapping and online scams. Just last year, the Philippine National Police revealed that POGO-related offenses had tripled between 2019 and 2022, highlighting the escalating problem.

Related: PAGCOR Unveils New Offshore Gaming Regulations

Furthermore, a raid in November of last year on two illegal POGO hubs in Pasay City unearthed a hidden torture den allegedly used for prostitution and human trafficking. The raid led to the rescue of over 700 suspected victims, both foreign and Filipino, exposing the dark underbelly of the POGO industry.

While POGOs were once touted as a significant source of government revenue, their economic contribution has dwindled. Economic managers report that POGO revenues accounted for a mere 0.2% of the Philippines' gross domestic product last year, a far cry from their previous financial weight. This, coupled with the mounting evidence of their nefarious activities, has eroded any arguments for their continued presence in the country.

No Path to Redemption

Representative Rodriguez emphasized that the numerous high-profile crimes linked to POGOs necessitate a definitive move beyond regulation. He argued that five years of failed attempts to clean up the industry leave no other option but complete abolition.

Notably, a "vast majority" of government representatives invited to the hearing reportedly voiced support for the POGO ban, including officials from the Department of the Interior and local governments, the Department of Foreign Affairs and various law enforcement agencies.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. previously expressed reservations about a blanket ban, stating that the issues primarily stemmed from illegal operators. However, even licensed POGOs also being implicated in criminal activities has complicated the situation.

With committee approval secured, the POGO ban measures now face further hurdles. They must navigate votes in both the House and Senate before potentially landing on President Marcos' desk for final approval. If passed, these measures would represent a significant transformation for the Philippines' online gambling landscape, prioritizing public safety and social order over potential economic gains.

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