The Philippines has surfaced as a major center for online gaming during the past few years, paving way for so-called Philippines Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) to flourish by illegally attracting Chinese nationals who work in virtual casinos catering to players back in China where gambling is not allowed.
Online casinos in the Philippines allow gambling enthusiasts to wager money from anywhere in the world. A player can watch scantily dressed Filipina croupiers shuffling cards in front of a webcam in the Asian country, targeting people even in those countries where gambling is illegal. For instance, China does not allow its citizens to gamble but POGOs are attracting as many as 100,000 Chinese citizens who work for the Philippines’ virtual casinos catering to gamblers back in mainland China where the activity is unlawful. As per an estimate, up to 95 per cent of POGO customers are citizens of China.
While POGOs are generating considerable tax revenue for the government and provide jobs in crowded downtown area of manila, the controversial practice is also creating new challenges for the Philippines National Police. The rise in online casinos has led to a significant increase in criminal activity.
In their leisure time, POGO employees themselves get involved in gambling and finish up in hefty debt, which make them fall prey to loan sharks. Elmer Cereno, a spokesperson for the Philippines National Police-Anti Kidnapping Group, explained, “They are then approached by loan sharks who offer to lend them money. When they fail to pay it back, the loan sharks kidnap them and try to get ransom from their relatives back home.”
In October last year, Philippines National Police rescued two Chinese POGO employees, who were kidnapped by local loan sharks and whose families had been asked to get them freed by paying 68,000 yuan to 80,000 yuan (roughly US$9,800 to US$11,500) in ransom. Between January 2017 and October 2019, Philippine police registered 65 cases of kidnappings for ransom involving POGO employees. Investigations into the cases led to the arrests of 132 people. Most of the victims were Chinese nationals.
Since last year, Beijing has been pressurizing Manila to close down its controversial online casino industry, as it previously did to force Cambodia to do the same. Manila authorities announced in August 2019 that it had stopped accepting applications for new POGO licences, but President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he had no plans to totally ban the industry.