POSTSCRIPT / August 5, 2018 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Casinos: Location location, location!

WHETHER one is house-hunting, putting up a karinderia, a gasoline station or a casino-resort, many times, if not all the time, the viability of the venture rests largely on “Location, Location, Location.”

Noting the pell-mell location of casinos scattered all over the islands, we borrow the “Location x3” title of the Channel 4 property program first aired in the United Kingdom in 2000. Many property experts swear that the three key determinants of the desirability of a property are “location, location, location.”

Looking at how casinos in the Philippines are scattered all over, as if at random, we wonder what the government policy is in deciding their locations. Is the site picked by the moneyed investor or determined according to set policies and development plans?

When President Duterte assumed office two years ago, among his early pronouncements was about putting a cap on government’s gambling operations —particularly of the casinos licensed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

The President gave us the impression that he was not comfortable that there was too much gambling in the country and too many casinos. Maybe he is right.

One early casualty was online gambling firm PhilWeb Corp., whose founding chairman Roberto Ongpin, trade minister in the Marcos regime, had to sell out after its Pagcor license was not renewed in August 2016.

The casino issue again came up when Boracay, a top tourism spot, was closed on April 26 for rehabilitation and a Macau-based operator with a Manila partner prepared to build a casino resort under a Pagcor license despite Duterte’s saying he would not allow it.

Now there are reports that Pagcor has given the green light for yet another casino in the crowded Entertainment City in the reclaimed bay area in Parañaque. It will join City of Dreams, Solaire, Okada and Genting/Megaworld.

The fifth casino there, to be operated by Nayon Landing Resorts Philippines Development Corp., will feature a new Nayong Filipino cultural theme park. Groundbreaking is set this month.

It is not only Pagcor issuing casino licenses. The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, for one, has granted permits to several operators, including a big Chinese proponent said to invest $500 million to develop the 10,000-hectare Fuga island in Cagayan into a casino resort.

Pagcor itself operates its own casinos in Angeles, Clark Freeport, Bacolod, Cebu, Davao, Malate, Olongapo, and Tagaytay, among other choice places – the regulator assigning itself the awkward role of being a competing player. Watch as some of them fold up.

It also has “satellite casinos” in San Nicolas in Ilocos Norte, Fort Ilocandia in Laoag City, Binondo and Ermita in Manila, Biñan City, San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona and the Cavite Coliseum in Bacoor, Crown Regency Hotel and Rajah Hotel in Cebu City, Waterfront Hotel in Lapu-Lapu City, Park Mall in Mandaue City, Amigo Terraces Hotel in Iloilo City, and Apo View Hotel in Davao City.

The casino clutter does not include yet the thousands of bingo and slot-machine arcades that operate even inside shopping malls.

If anybody bothers to count, he might discover that this country where four out of every 10 Filipinos (48 percent) consider themselves poor has more casinos and gambling joints than Las Vegas in the glittering desert of Nevada.

Should investors lugging tons of dollars be allowed to pick any site they want? Or should everybody be confined to defined zones for better monitoring and regulating? As for islands being taken over by operators with foreign links, what are the security implications?

Are revenues and jobs the main considerations in laying down policy? How do we address the problem of vice and crime following the big-time gambling syndicates where they go? How do we prevent casinos’ being used for money laundering while quietly operating “in the dark”?

Economic managers — notably the National Economic and Development Authority – may want to measure again the absorptive capacity of the shrinking casino market and review guidelines for assigning locations.

 Policy on ‘jueteng’ under review?

A SHIFT in the administration’s policy may be coming also for jueteng, the illegal numbers game that has spread in the countryside while the authorities’ attention was on fighting the menace of illegal drugs.

In his statements, President Duterte has been hinting of wanting to give jueteng legitimacy, warning that if the numbers game is dismantled, drug lords may jump into the vacuum and take over its network.

Despite its being illegal, jueteng thrives. In our home city of Mabalacat and in adjacent Angeles City, for instance, there are three draws daily — at 12 noon, 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. Bettors choose a pair of numbers from 1 to 40. One peso wins P700.

For the information of our mayor and the police chief, the winning numbers in Mabalacat last Friday were 1-5, 33-9, and 19-12. Winners yesterday were 38-35 in the noon draw, and 27-18 at 5 p.m.

Jueteng looks “small-time” compared to casino gambling – in fact its legal version is called “Small Town Lottery” or STL – but it raises similar policy questions although on a smaller scale.

For planning and policy-making, has government done any serious study on the impact of jueteng and other forms of gambling on the individual, his family and the community?

Btw, Pagcor is a government-owned/controlled corporation whose charter authorizes it to issue casino licenses to private operators or enter into joint projects. It is the government’s third largest revenue generator after the bureaus of internal revenue and of customs.

It is required to remit, through the national treasury, 50 percent of its annual gross revenue. In 2016 it remitted P27 billion from its gross revenue of P54 billion. Some P3-4 billion from its net income went to the President’s Social Fund.

Another GOCC that is also into gambling is the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. It handles lotteries but deals only with charitable institutions, unlike Pagcor that has more beneficiaries such as charities, schools, hospitals and sports.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 5, 2018)

The fight against jueteng can be likened to duterte’s war against illegal drugs – cutting the branches while letting the roots grow – is fake war and is truly unwinnable. Thanks a lot. f.i.l

federico i. lojo

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