POSTSCRIPT / September 26, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Pagcor, Internet make casino gambling easier

OUT-REACH IDEA: Many people are still unaware that they need not be seen going to the established casinos of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) to be able to gamble in a casino atmosphere.

In what looks like an out-reach program, Pagcor has licensed several “arcades” in various locations in several hotels to extend its operations in Metro Manila, Cavite, Cebu and Bacolod.

That’s a neat idea — instead of waiting for the player to come to the casino, Pagcor takes the casino to the player.

The presence of the arcades where sleek slot machines are waiting to divest victims of their money has become so high-profile now that some concerned groups have protested the public gambling in their neighborhood.

(Another group was protesting yesterday in downtown Manila, which triggered this column. Their main complaint was that even students were being allowed allegedly to come in and gamble away their allowances.)

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DAZZLING: But such protests, like the winning streak of most gamblers, usually do not last long. Either the protesters get tired talking to the deaf or somebody is usually able to “enlighten” them on the more positive points of gambling.

The Church sometimes makes some noise too, but its pious protests soon vanish after hefty donations are delivered to its favorite charities. Now and then, some members of media also raise naughty questions, but they often succumb to Pagcor’s dazzling arguments.

So the casinos go on their accustomed merry way, raising money for their many shareholders.

There are two kinds of shareholders, by the way. There are (1) those who collect mandatory shares regularly, and (2) those who get something thrown their way now and then depending on the weather.

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TOURISTS ONLY?: Decades ago, when the idea of Las Vegas-type casinos was first being broached for Manila and the bay, the public was assured by the proponents that these joints were intended to lure only foreign tourists.

The casino operators swore on a stack of Gideon bibles that locals, especially the youth and the penniless (naturally) will not be allowed to play.

But like most public endeavors in this free-wheeling society, the casinos were soon entertaining anybody who walks in with enough money to lose. The walk-in patron opened his wallet to show his capacity to contribute to charity — and he is ushered in with a smile.

Waiting inside the casino were its velvety tables for roulette, craps (“dice” to you), black jack, baccarat (“Lucky 9” to the poor), among other devices for making patrons part with their money.

Where you hear the familiar jingling sounds were the rows upon rows of hungry slot machines. We used to call them “one-armed bandits,” but that was before electronics made the handle merely decorative.

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DEMOCRATIZED: The slots bring us back to the original topic we set out to discuss about Pagcor’s out-reach program in selected hotels. (Sorry, but the hotels’ gambling arcades have only slot machines, but we can guarantee their efficiency.)

That line about casinos’ catering only to foreign tourists has been dropped. Same thing with the claim that casinos are intended only to provide amusement and gaming for the rich, in short, those who can afford to lose their shirts after losing their property and their wives.

Gambling has been democratized. To play in the arcades, all you need is P1,000 and a face showing that you are not a teenager, plus an ID to show who you are.

Pagcor says the cost of putting up the arcade and buying the slot machines is borne wholly by the private operator. Pagcor spends only for the personnel, who are its employees.

At the end of the accounting period, the operator keeps 40 percent and Pagcor gets 60 percent. The fairness of the 40-60 sharing scheme is debatable, but we will not get into that.

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PLAY MONEY: The P1,000 is ostensibly a membership fee, but don’t worry about that because it is actually your “puhunan” (play money). You fill up a simple form, you hand over the cash and you get a plastic membership playing card that has the initial P1,000 credit on it.

You insert the card into the slot machine and you play. What you win or lose is entered into your card. If you run out of credits, you just fork over more moolah and your credit is updated.

When you walk out, whatever is the balance on your card remains playable for the next visit. If the balance is zero, no problem. Just put in more money when you come back after pawning your valuables.

Your membership card is good as long as you have cash to back it up.

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MADE EASY: The better alternative, which I can discuss with some (ehem) authority, is to play casino games from the comfort of your home, office or wherever you happen to be with a computer (equipped with speakers for audio effects) with Internet connections.

There are a number of online casinos, mostly based in the United States. Pick the casino you want, register once, download the software, get a player’s name and a password.

A cheery voice welcomes you when you log on and step into the virtual casino. No guard gropes your body for concealed weapons.

Depending on how sophisticated is your equipment, you gamble in private but with virtual casino ambience.

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VIRTUAL CASINO: You can play most any game there is in a full-blown live casino in, say, Las Vegas, using your computer after logging in.

Your computer screen is transformed into the face of the slot machine, or the roulette or card table, etc., and the audio-visual effects are so real that you would think you were in Vegas.

You play either for money or for fun. If playing for money, you must have a valid credit card whose number you submit on line (this is the part that requires the utmost care).

If playing for fun, you get fun credits in dollars and play all you want, lose all you want. If you accumulate winnings (in dollars!) and shut down your computer, your winnings will still be there next time you log on.

If playing for money, you are actually gambling whatever available cash there is in your account with the bank. What you win is credited to your account automatically. What you lose is deducted from your account.

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CREDIT CARD BLUES: Using one’s credit card for online transactions could be a problem. We have heard of cases of somebody gambling with his father’s money by using the unsuspecting dad’s credit card numbers.

There have also been cases of some credit card numbers being intercepted while in transit in cyberspace and being used by crooks.

The better thing to do, if you ask us, is to just play for fun. You get the same excitement playing the online slot machine alive with spinning reels and metallic sounds. When you play black jack or baccarat against the smart computerized bank, you go through the same scheming calculations.

Online poker lacks the kantiyaw and the bluffing that make live poker with the boys most enjoyable. But computerized poker still requires the same skill one wields at the table, which makes it one of the favorites.

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JUETENG POSERS: But going back to the local jackpot arcades…. With objectors having grown weary, it seems Pagcor is well on its way to spreading its tentacles and vacuuming people’s pockets.

In this country where hard times drive people deeper into gambling, nobody can stop the Filipino from gambling according to his means — and beyond.

The psychology is no different in the case of jueteng, the poor man’s numbers game that has made millionaires of officials and police officers.

The difference is that while the government gets its share of whatever earnings are declared by Pagcor bosses, in jueteng the government gets zero, absolutely nothing, while those whose hands are on the lever rake in millions.

This brings us to two questions: If, as alleged, the President got a regular tong from jueteng operations during the time of Erap Estrada, who gets the millions now? And, how come the Arroyo administration is unusually nice to jueteng operators?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 26, 2004)

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