MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - Online casino centres are under construction north and south of the Philippine capital to cash in on the booming gaming sector, the nation's gaming regulator Andrea Domingo said in Manila.
"POGO is legal and is here to stay," Domingo said, referring to Philippine offshore gaming operators. The industry employs about 138,000 mostly Chinese workers in online casinos catering to gamblers from the mainland, and is poised to surpass call centres as Manila's top new office space user this year.
Oriental Group, one of the POGO operators licensed by the Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corp, is building hubs in Cavite City in the south, and Clark City in the north, Domingo said.
Those operating in hubs will get a five-year gaming licence against the regular three-year permit given to others, she said.
Oriental is investing 8 billion pesos (S$212 million) for the 20-hectare POGO City in Cavite that can accommodate 20,000 workers, General Manager Kevin Wong said. The first phase in Clark will be about 10 hectares and can host 5,000 employees.
The government has set up tax and labour rules to lure illegal gaming outfits to register, and will start issuing licences to POGO workers, Domingo said.
Property broker David Leechiu estimates that the online gaming sector employs about 345,000 workers.
More than 50 POGOs have received permits to operate since President Rodrigo Duterte began awarding licences in 2016. The influx of Chinese workers triggered Senate hearings last year.
"Given social tensions, we wanted to put everyone in one place," the 28-year-old Wong said on Oriental's decision to create gaming hubs.
The gaming regulator will keep its 8-billion-peso target for POGO revenue this year, even as Domingo said it has fallen behind after three operators shut for fear of the tax hunt.
"I hope we don't overtax them so we don't lose the good" that comes with the POGO boom, Domingo said.
According to her, the Philippines lags behind Cambodia where it is cheaper to set up shop.