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Over 41,000 Illegal Gambling Arrests in the Philippines So Far This Year

Over 41,000 Illegal Gambling Arrests in the Philippines So Far This Year

A dedicated effort to crack down on illegal gambling in the Philippines is paying big dividends. Data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) shows a significant number of arrests resulting from operations specifically targeting illegal gaming since the beginning of the year.

Philippine National Police officers march in formation
Philippine National Police officers march in formation. The police force has made a massive number of arrests for illegal gambling this year. (Image: Radyo La Verdad)

The Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported on Tuesday that police have arrested about 41,000 people in 50,000 operations launched to impact the illegal gambling industry. The majority involved online gaming.

The initiative comes as the country’s gaming industry goes through a significant transition. Whereas certain forms of online gambling became wildly popular in recent times, they were also fraught with corruption that led to their cancellation.

POGOs, eSabong on Notice

The Philippines Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) and eSabong segments have run into serious problems lately. POGOs once delivered millions of dollars in revenue to the Philippines, but an attempt to raise their tax rate became an issue.

That led to many operators turning to questionable methods of running their businesses, including human trafficking, exploitation, coercion and other crimes. As a result, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the country’s gaming regulator, and lawmakers began trying to weed out the criminal element.

PAGCOR has revoked dozens of POGO licenses in the past two years while, at the same time, trying to keep the segment’s reputation intact. It’s an initiative that has largely failed, with lawmakers seeking a complete POGO ban.

eSabong, online betting of cockfights, has also come under fire. It, too, was responsible for providing millions of dollars in revenue to the Philippines, but corruption ruined it.

There are still open police investigations regarding missing individuals linked to eSabong, and the PNP has had to arrest several of its own officers for kidnapping related to the activity. When a young mother tried to sell her newborn baby to pay off her eSabong betting debt, the end suddenly appeared.

eSabong went from being an approved to a banned activity in May 2022. However, that hasn’t stopped the wagers, putting more pressure on the PNP.

Help Is Coming

Major General Benjamin Acorda, Jr., the new head of the national police force, has reinforced a number of departments to give them greater authority to stop illegal gambling. The PNP’s Anti-Cybercrime Group has been working overtime to complete the mission, although Acorda admits that there are obstacles.

One of the biggest, according to his comments to the PNA, is legislation. He emphasized that the gaming laws don’t go into enough detail regarding online gambling. This makes it more difficult to prosecute what the PNP deems as violations.

Legislative reforms are underway to change that, but the process is slow. However, the PNP is getting help from both the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and PAGCOR.

The PCSO and PAGCOR are assisting the police force in its crackdown. The PCSO, which uses lotteries and sweepstakes to raise money for national health programs, is part of the Office of the President. As such, it’s very close to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos.

PAGCOR, despite running into trouble with legislators recently, is doing its part, as well. In addition to cracking down on the licensing side of the equation, it’s also now part of the Clark Security Advisory Council.

The new body emerged from the recent scandal involving over 1,000 human trafficking victims freed at the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga. They had been forced to work as slaves for illegal gambling companies, call centers and more before police finally intervened.

The concerted efforts from different approaches should give the PNP a big boost. While illegal gambling will always be an issue, intense scrutiny can keep it from growing out of control.

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