By Miriam Tan-Fabian
IS IT gambling or gaming? The answer largely depends on who you are asking. A religious conservative or a mainstream church leader will have a different answer compared to that of a gaming executive. And whether gambling or gaming is illegal or legal will largely depend on the government. If the government has explicitly forbidden the activity (gambling or gaming), then it is illegal. That’s as simple as it gets.
After all, it is no secret that the government has the created the Games and Amusement Board (GAB) to regulate sports and games in the country and has two government corporations that are into gaming, namely the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), both of which have been earning billions in revenue. The popularity of gaming in the country is undeniable, so much so that former Senator and Senate President, Ernesto Maceda labeled the Philippines, the “gambling capital of Asia.” And who can dispute such claims?
In fact, just this March, mega Casino, Solaire located in Roxas Blvd. just opened its doors to the public. The casino area of Solaire alone is a staggering 18,500 sq meters, it boasts of 500 rooms, suites, and bayside “villas”, and aside from an English version, its website also has Chinese, Japanese, and Korean versions. Moreover, 58 casinos can be found all over the country, from Luzon to Visayas, and even down to Mindanao, many of them operating 24/7. In Manila alone, there are 17 casinos, compared to nine (9) in Central Luzon, five (5) in the CALABARZON area, and two (2) in the Ilocos region. The whole of the Visayas though, only has five (5) casinos while Mindanao only has two (2) casinos in all.
On top of all these, there are 18 PAGCOR exclusive members and VIP clubs in major cities of the country. Although the games you can play in these casinos are no different than in any other international casino and in pokerblog.com or other online portals like the usual baccarat, blackjack, roulette, craps, bingo, big and small, Pai-Gow, stud poker, Sic Bo, and the ever-popular slot machines, some customers still swear that the Philippines offers some of the most intense gambling action for locals and foreigners alike.
PAGCOR too has contributed some innovative games like Red and White, Casino War, Super Six, Pontoon, Jazzbeme Baccarat, Rapid Roulette, and Electronic Horse Racing. And apparently, aside from the gaming/gambling, there is a whole culture thrown into the mix, where both casino and non-casino establishments have karaoke singing; daily live band shows, ballroom dancing, cultural shows, and concerts with special top national or international guests. While it is tempting to conclude that gaming / gambling is merely an activity for the filthy rich and or famous, this is just so far from the truth. Gambling/gaming is a Filipino past time and sports betting is big business.
We’ve got a new racetrack in Batangas and while racing days used to be only on weekends, the racetrack is now open 6 days in a week. Off track, betting stations and bookies dot the greater Metro Manila area, and cockfights are now held daily and simultaneously in the different cockpits all over the country. Bets have also not been limited to just horses, cocks, or any other animal that can either run or fight. You can be sure that there have also been a slew of bets in the recently concluded Paquiao-Rio fight in Macau. There is also the popularity of poker and bingo parlors, where the latter can be seen in many of our popular malls. The face of gambling/gaming too, has also been evolving and the lines have been blurring.
These activities are done not merely face-to-face but online and virtual as well. Since there are no laws against online gaming/gambling, an estimated 3,000 internet gambling / e-gaming parlors have popped up all over the country. And even in developed countries, team games for such popular fantasy-games like League of Legends have become hip and cool. Thus, hardcore gaming geeks and enthusiasts have started not only coming out of the woodwork, but also earning a decent pot prize in the unlikely case that they win. It should therefore come to no surprise that the government has failed to stamp out illegal gambling. Jueteng is still in full swing, while Masiao and Last 2 are operating in the Visayas and Mindanao.
While the lure of getting “rich” quick is one of the motivations for illegal gambling, there are also other enticements. Unlike “legal” gaming / gambling, you don’t have to go to a casino or gaming stand to bet. There probably wouldn’t be any long queues either. In addition, bets could go for as low as P6.00 a bet unlike the minimum betting in lotto for Php 20.00, which is already three times more, an amount which would easily discourage those from the class C, D, and E markets. Moreover, many religious conservatives have opposed gaming / gambling for its addictive properties.
It should be pointed out though that being addictive is not limited to gaming / gambling. At present too, especially in developed countries, there are standard procedures and best practices for gaming / gambling like an exclusion form which close family members can accomplish for the gaming / gambling addict. In addition, there are available services like counseling for gaming / gambling addicts, and even financial literacy seminars for those who have won big in lotteries, and similar games with sizeable pot prizes. More importantly, these gaming corporations are earning a lot, paying billions in taxes, contributing significantly to the government’s coffers, and have several initiatives in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Corporate Citizenship (CC), i.e. building public schools.
Rather than try to stamp out illegal gambling, it might be wise for the government to legitimize such games and earn from it in the process. In the Philippines at least, illegal gambling is earning billions more in comparison to legal gaming activities, thus eating into and competing with these legitimated gaming operations. Thus, this may be time to rethink our “legitimate” gaming models to earn more for the government, while offering positive gaming / gambling-related services, and doing good in CSR or CC while we are at it.