The billion peso POGO question

After a hiatus, Senator Ronald Bato de la Rosa came out Saturday, May 4, to defend the Duterte Administration’s pronouncement to open the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs). Such a stand is contrary to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) guidelines that prohibits the operation of non-essential industries — POGOs included.

POGOs are online gambling firms which operate in the Philippines but caters to customers outside the country. They are not considered as essential though Dela Rosa argues that “This is a give or take situation, you can say that this isn’t an essential business but on the part of the administration, they see it as very essential. They need this to get some funds against COVID-19.”

Assuming, arguendo, that POGOs are essential, that gambling is essential, why not operate the small town lotteries (STLs) and casinos? Could it be because the government does not earn from these gambling outfits?

According to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the agency that oversees the operation of casinos including POGOs, the contribution of the offshore gaming is P3.924 billion in 2017, P7.365 billion in 2018 and possibly P8 billion in 2019.

Interestingly, this is very low compared to the projection of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) which is at least P2 billion a month or P24 billion a year. In simple terms, POGOs are not paying the appropriate taxes. So if the claim that the government is getting money from POGOs, and the money is not in the form of taxes, where does the river flow… err, where does the money specifically go?

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