Manila will repatriate 40,000 Chinese casino workers
They will close at least 175 'pogo' casinos that had their licences expired or revoked. The Chinese government supports the decision. Several Philippine senators had also asked President Marcos Jr to restrict gambling activities because they attract crime.
Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Philippines has decided to repatriate 40,000 Chinese workers employed in casinos, which are locally called 'pogo' (an acronym for offshore gambling operators). The decision by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. comes after pressure from some senators who in recent days had highlighted the illicit trafficking associated with gambling.
Already in 2020, the Philippines Anti-Money Laundering Council had highlighted the high vulnerability of the sector to financial crime. A report by Philippine lawmakers released in January this year had found 'clear links' to human trafficking and recommended prosecution of immigration officials involved.
Senator Koko Pimentel argued that pogo shops - even legal ones - facilitated the entry of unwanted citizens: 'So what is the best way to solve this problem? Simplify it. Ban pogos,' he told CNN.
Said and done: from October, 175 casinos that had received approval from the previous Rodrigo Duterte-led government in 2016 will be closed. As in other Southeast Asian countries, the sector has grown exponentially thanks to the ban on gambling in China, where it has been outlawed since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. According to Justice Department spokesman Jose Dominic Clavano, the pogo parlours that will close had their licences revoked or expired. 'The crackdown was triggered by reports of murders, kidnappings and other crimes committed by Chinese citizens against their compatriots,' he pointed out.
The Chinese government, which had repeatedly called on Manila to curb gambling activities, was in favour of the repatriation of compatriots, which will begin next month.
Recently, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva had introduced a law against online gambling under which gamblers risk six months in prison and fines of up to USD 8,170. Critics argue that these are extreme measures: figures from the Ministry of Finance show that casino tax revenues reached USD 122 million in 2020. As the pandemic hit the Philippines hard, many operators moved to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
The following year, Manila imposed a 5% tax on betting revenue and a 25% income tax on foreigners employed in the industry. As a result, even more operators left the Philippines. In many South-East Asian countries, casinos are synonymous with forced labour and online scams. Malaysia recently announced the creation of a commission to recover migrants who become victims of online scams in the Mekong region.
Property consultancy firm Leechiu Property Consultants estimates that a complete closure of pogo shops in the Philippines would leave 1.05 million square metres of office space empty and deprive the country of 1 million in annual rent. Casinos provide .2 billion annually to the Philippine economy and employ about 201,000 Chinese and 111,000 Filipinos.