Gaming Industry in the Philippines Part II – Online Gaming

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Op-ed by Bob Shead

In this second part of a two-part article on the Philippine Gaming Industry, I will focus on the country’s online gaming industry. Together with the casino sector, which was the focus of the first part of this article, the online gaming industry is of enormous importance to the country’s economy. In this article, I will also identify possible investment opportunities in this rather complicated and sensitive industry. 

Background

The Philippines is an interesting and relatively new market for online gambling.  There are two distinct regions in the country, for gambling purposes.  The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) control the majority of the Philippines where gambling is controlled by the Government owned PAGCOR.   As previously mentioned in the casinos sector, PAGCOR operates their land-based casinos, and betting outlets across the country.

The second region is the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) and Freeport which most people just call “Cagayan Freeport.”  This is based mainly at the Manila Entertainment Complex, mentioned earlier and located next to Manila Bay.  This is the only area in the Philippines not under complete control of PAGCOR.  In the Freeport area, there are numerous independent casinos that focus mainly on foreign tourists.

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Cagayan Freeport also acts as an online gambling licensing jurisdiction, and is the only such jurisdiction in Asia.  A Filipino gambling license is difficult to obtain, and does not allow operators to accept wagers from Philippine citizens.  However a license from CSEZ there allows access to the greater Asian market, a rapidly expanding market, with a focus on China.

PAGCOR have said that they are currently reviewing the applications for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) of 44 companies that have applied for new licenses in the Philippines. This is in addition to the 45 applications already approved by PAGCOR.

In March PAGCOR announced that the issuance of additional POGO licenses, if approved, will encourage PAGCOR to reach its Peso 60 billion (US$1.17 billion) – Peso 65 billion (US$1.27 billion) revenue target for 2017.  PAGCOR has also acknowledged that before fully opening the market for online gaming, the PAGCOR audit system that helps track and monitor the operations of gaming operators needs to be rapidly and extensively updated with the procurement and installation of the correct audit equipment and technology.  PAGCOR has acknowledged that  there is some confusion with its audit facilities, mainly between the differences in operations between  CEZA and PAGCOR as to who handles the monitoring.  This is currently being resolved, according to PAGCOR.

It has been reported previously that PAGCOR have already collected over Peso 1 billion (US$19.63 million) from its licensing and processing fees, as revenue from 35 offshore gaming licenses issued in 2016.  These charges for each license application amount to US$50,000 for application and processing of e-casino operators, and US$40,000 for separate sports betting, charged by PAGCOR.  When a license is approved, an additional fee of US$200,000 for e-casino and US$150,000 for sports betting is charged.  It is estimated that by 2018 revenues will increase to Peso 3 billion (US$58.9 million) with the issuance of the additional licenses. 

According to gaming analysts, there is an optimism in the growth of the Philippine gaming sector in the future, on the back of its improving domestic economy, which contributes to the growth of the Gross Gaming Revenues (GGR) of the sector.  The Philippines is a primary market for on line gaming due to the increasing inflow of investment and gaming funds into the economy.  Observers have also said that the growth in inbound Chinese funds is rapidly increasing, though the online gaming industry, and that it will lead to the increase of the volume of the GGR. PAGCOR’s financial data states that revenues increased by 18% from the third quarter of 2015 figure of Peso 98.6 billion (US$1.93 billion) to the third quarter of 2016 when revenues were Peso 118 billion (US$2.31 billion).

Legal Aspects of the Philippines Online Gaming Industry

The laws for online gaming in the Philippines do need to be examined.  In both gaming regions of the Philippines (PAGCOR and CEZA), it is illegal for an independent gaming operator to offer online betting to Philippine nationals.  However, offshore gaming providers, with no connection to the Philippines may offer online gaming services to Philippine nationals.

Briefly, there are two different sets of legislation operating in the Philippines.  Philippine Nationals are not subject to any laws that ban online gambling. However, there has been much Congressional and Senatorial debate on the legality of placing bets through the internet.  A Philippine Supreme Court ruling in 2012 found that there was no part of Philippine law that made it an offense to place gaming bets.  Therefore Philippine nationals can theoretically use the online gaming facilities.

However, online gaming operators must comply by different legislation.  All online gaming sites with a license to operate in the Philippines cannot offer its services to Philippine nationals.  PAGCOR issues the licenses and monitors all existing licensees for compliance.  Any registered company can obtain a license, providing it pays the due fees mentioned above.  License holders can therefore offer their services to anyone outside the Philippines. The advantage to the Philippines, is the close proximity of the rest of Asia and its improving level of development, that make it an attractive base of operations for potential investors with an interest in accessing the Asian online gaming market. 

All gaming systems must be examined and approved by PAGCOR, and the gaming company must hold an adequate amount of funds in cash, to cover all player balances.  The PAGCOR Licensing Commission has a strong reputation for strictness in enforcing these regulations. 

The gaming industry introduced by the Philippine Government does have currently conflicting legislation, and obviously professional legal advice is essential to enter a very promising investment sector.  However, maneuvering around the legal challenges is proving to be complicated for both investors and Philippine Government regulators.  The terms online gaming or offshore gaming are interchangeable, and refer to internet based gaming activity, that involves clients who register and establish accounts with the gaming operator.

Under PAGCOR regulations, only foreign nationals based in a different country, and over 21 years of age are permitted to take part in online gaming, that is based in the Philippines.  PAGCOR also states that Philippine Nationals here or abroad, or foreign nationals legally based in the Philippines are legally not permitted to access Philippine based online gaming operators.  Gaming operators may be either Philippine based companies, or foreign companies based outside of the Philippines.  It is presumed that the latter means gaming companies who can offer gaming services in the Philippines, or foreign operators who set up part of their operations here.  It is acknowledged that this legislation can be considered ambiguous, which currently adds to the confusion, although work is ongoing to resolve this legal confusion.

Real Estate Observations of the Philippine Online Gaming Industry

The online gaming business currently can easily fit into the existing office real estate landscape in the Philippines, since it essentially only requires the same space and infrastructure requirements as the Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) industry, which attracts investors, who do not have to fund capital for large construction projects.  It also gives the Philippines an alternative avenue to employ its growing English speaking BPO workforce in the face of competition from other countries, i.e. India and China, and is a reliable source of tax revenue.

The Philippine real estate community has recognised that the Philippine online gaming industry is now a “new kid on the block” in terms of office occupation, and is expected to challenge the current leading office user, the BPO operations, in the near future.  Currently both of these sectors drive the demand for office space nationwide, which in 2017 is anticipated to be between 1.2m sqm and 1.5m sqm.   Of this, it is estimated that the online gaming industry could occupy about 400,000 sqm to 500,000 sqm of office space.  The rapid increase of office space required by the online gaming industry has increased from zero in recent years to currently nearly 50% of the BPO office sector.  The real estate industry in the Philippines now anticipate that by 2018, the on line gaming sector could equal that of the BPO sector in terms of required office space.  For example, and in the last six months, this sector occupied 84,000 sqm of the available office space in Metro Manila.  The figure will rise following the current license applications under consideration by PAGCOR. 

Additionally, it has been accepted by the real estate industry that these gaming companies can sub-franchise to as much as eight other sub-franchisees, and therefore it is estimated that, as a result, each gaming company has the potential to lease between 10,000 and 20,000 sqm of extra office space in the near future.  

Additionally, there is a trickle-down effect.  The online gaming industry is contributing to the increased rental of up market residential units in key areas of Metro Manila.  This is due to the increasing foreign management of the gaming companies, who require extra accommodation.  This has led to an increase in the number of restaurants, bars and social meeting places.  This is also affecting the regional office space available in regional BPO focused areas such as Cebu, Dumaguette, and other parts of Luzon and the Visayas.  

Currently, there are 1.1 million people employed in the BPO outsourcing sector, and this is anticipated to grow to 1.8 million people by 2020.   It is also anticipated that 70% of this growth will be in Metro Manila, with the remaining 30% growth in other parts of the Philippines.  This amount of growth in office space translates into a requirement of an additional 3 million sqm of office space throughout the Philippines.  This is the estimated demand of the BPO sector, and does not include the relatively new gaming industry sector.

According to the real estate industry, the current office space supply is 10.3 million sqm, of which Metro Manila accounts for 8.8 million sqm or 85%, and the existing office space outside of Metro Manila amounts to 1.5 million sqm or 15%.  The current estimated plans for increased office space expected to become available by 2023, is a total of 5.4 million sqm, of which 4 million sqm or 74% will be in Metro Manila, and the balance will be in other cities in the Philippines.

The other related aspect is the increasing growth of the younger population (now in their 20s) and English speaking in the Philippines.  Gaming companies have taken notice of this, when looking for a location and access to potential employees.

As a result, the increasingly robust online gambling industry, despite the legal issues, are now impacting on the Philippine real estate sector.  It has been recently reported that the online gaming sector is now the second largest demand driver for office space in the Philippines, closely following the BPO sector.

Some Problematic Issues with the Philippine Online Gaming Industry

Apart from the confusing and duplicate legislation that is currently under review, and was mentioned earlier, another issue to contend with is that there are a number of different types of business within the online gaming sector that fall under different jurisdictions, depending on what they do.  This has led to some differences between PAGCOR and other government agencies, in particular the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).  Also important is that the Philippines has a demonstrated vulnerability to cybercrime.  Online gaming is a tempting target, and the Philippines’ digital security framework is being encouraged to improve IT security and access in both physical and regulatory terms.

It has been acknowledged that PEZA has some objections to the online gaming sector, and has said that it may consider to withdraw the accreditation of any PEZA licensed building that houses an online gaming related businesses.  This is due to PEZA’s observation that it may be difficult to enforce the regulations that apply to gaming companies, due to the fact that the industry has many related business interests such as software providers, BPO providers, data and content streaming providers, system support providers, and providers of marketing and customer relations services, all of whom may provide services to clients outside the gaming industry.   The concerned government agencies are attempting to fix the problem for monitoring and management of a business sector, for which they have no reliable current data.  This reflects the current issues surrounding the PAGCOR audit system mentioned earlier. When PAGCOR has acquired and deployed its updated audit system, then this problem is expected to be resolved.

Pagcor List of Approved Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) as of August 16, 2017
  • Oriental Game Ltd.
  • Far Eastern Capital Ltd.
  • Marco Polo Enterprises Ltd.
  • Imperial Choice Ltd.
  • Libo Consolidated Ltd.
  • Fortuneport Enterprises Ltd.
  • SC World Development Group Ltd.
  • Golden Dragon Empire Ltd.
  • VIP Global Solutions Ltd.
  • MG Universal Link Ltd.
  • AG Interpacific Resources Ltd.
  • BBIN International Ltd.
  • Eastern Hawaii Leisure Company Ltd.
  • PT Transpacific Company Ltd.
  • OG Global Access Ltd.
  • Dynamic System Ltd.
  • Leading Reward Ltd.
  • Kingwell International Group Ltd.
  • Defun Global Investment Ltd.
  • Inner Strong Ltd.
  • Four Leaf Technology Inc.
  • Smarc Group International Ltd.
  • Ximax Holding Ltd.
  • Puerto Galera Holdings Ltd.
  • New Wave Infotech Ltd.
  • Xionwei Technology Co. Ltd. Inc.
  • NewLink Pacific Ltd.
  • Pride Fortune Ltd.
  • OLE Group International Ltd.
  • Prestige IOM Ltd.
  • Wilshire Worldwide Company Ltd.
  • Wanfang Technology Management Ltd.
  • Giant Gains Solutions Inc.
  • Full Strength Trasing Ltd.
  • Swanston Asia Inc.
  • Don Tencess Asian Services Solution Inc.
  • Vertex Digital Entertainment Technologies Inc.
  • Hyper Sports Media Ltd.
  • Winherld Entertainment World Ltd.
  • Blue Frog Contents & Support Inc.
  • Jolie Investments Ltd.
  • Sohu Expert Int’l Management Solutions Inc.
  • Micro Info Systems Ltd.
  • King Rich International Group Ltd.
  • Most Success International Group Ltd.
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Conclusion

In brief and in conclusion, the online gaming industry in the Philippines is the ‘new kid on the block’ at the risk of repeating myself!  However, the speed and investment is remarkable.  The Philippines remains an ideal venue for this hugely profit making sector, and its location in both ASEAN and Asia, is very important when the gaming population in this region is immense.  The real estate forecasts are important and very valid, as to their estimates of the potential expansion of this highly profitable sector.  There are of course, and as I have mentioned many issues to contend with, as is always the case with a new industry that arises.  However, many existing investors have accepted this and the existing industry appears to be content and awaiting the improvements and clarifications.

About Us
 
Bob Shead is ASEAN Briefing’s Philippines Correspondent and is based in Manila. He has 25 years experience as a diplomat in Asia.
 
ASEAN Briefing is published by Asia Briefing, a subsidiary of Dezan Shira & Associates. We produce material for foreign investors throughout Asia, including China, India, Indonesia, Russia, the Silk Road & Vietnam. For editorial matters please contact us here and for a complimentary subscription to our products, please click here.
 
Dezan Shira & Associates provide business intelligence, due diligence, legal, tax and advisory services throughout the ASEAN and Asia. We maintain offices in Singapore, as well as Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City, and maintain Alliance offices in Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Manila as well as throughout China, South-East Asia, India and Russia. For assistance with ASEAN investments into any of the featured countries, please contact us at asean@dezshira.com or visit us at www.dezshira.com

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