PAGCOR authorizes partial resumption of POGO operations

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THE Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) has given the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) the green light to partially resume operations in the country, subject to stringent conditions. The decision was reached with the intention of helping the national government raise necessary funds to combat the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Citing the revenues from POGOs as a significant source of funds that would supplement efforts to curb the health crisis, PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Andrea Domingo said the management allowed the partial reopening of POGOs, without violating guidelines provided by the government under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).

Prior to resumption of operations, POGOs and their service providers are ordered to strictly adhere to all of PAGCOR’s pre-requisites including the 1) updating and settlement of all their tax liabilities, as certified by the Bureau of Internal Revenue; 2) updating of their payments for any regulatory fee, license fee, performance bond or penalties due to PAGCOR; 3) remittance of regulatory fees for the month of April; and 4) must pass the readiness to implement safety protocols.

Aside from meeting these requirements, Domingo said that PAGCOR will impose safety protocols on POGOs to help ensure that their employees will be protected from COVID-19 infections, and that spread of the virus in their communities will be avoided.

Among the safety measures include the permission of only 30 percent workforce per shift in authorized operating sites; provision of shuttle services for employees from their places of residence to their offices; temperature checks upon entry at the office premises; practicing social distancing, proper sanitation and disinfection, and wearing of mask at all times, among other important guidelines to curb the infection.

Meanwhile, employees who have confirmed COVID-19 cases, including those who are suspect or probable cases will not be allowed to work. The vulnerable groups, including the sick, immunocompromised, seniors, pregnant women, and those with co-morbidities will not be deployed.

Those who will report back to work – whether Filipinos or foreign nationals – must be tested for COVID-19 and must obtain a negative test result from a testing facility duly-registered with the Food and Drugs Administration. Further, an Isolation Room must be established for employees who may start to exhibit symptoms of the virus.

“Even with the partial resumption of POGO operations, we will put premium on the safety of their employees, and the gaming industry as a whole. While we recognize their huge contributions to nation-building, and their great viability as a funding source in these difficult times, we still have to practice extra precaution in striking a balance between health and economic benefits,” Domingo explained.

With the resumption of POGOs, functions of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) will continue, such that, sanctions and penalties will apply to POGO licensees and service providers who will be found in violation of PAGCOR’s pre-requisites and security protocols, and of the Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF’s) orders. Monitoring will be carried by PAGCOR’s Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Department, in coordination with the LGUs, LEAs and other government agencies. The IATF will likewise conduct inspections to gauge compliance to protocols.

As regulator, PAGCOR requires all POGO licensees to remit two percent of their gross gaming revenues as regulatory fees. Because of proper regulations in place, income from POGO operations showed steady growth through the years.

From P73.72 million in 2016, revenues from POGO significantly increased to P3.12 billion in 2017; P6.11 billion in 2018; and P5.73 billion in 2019. In the first quarter of 2020, POGOs already contributed P1.80 billion in regulatory fees alone. Further, from 2016 to March 2020, PAGCOR has already collected a total of P20.83 billion from POGOs in regulatory and other related fees.

These remittances form part of PAGCOR’s contributions to the National Treasury and other mandated beneficiaries. One of which is the Universal Healthcare Law whose funding will be partly sourced from the revenues of PAGCOR.

With its decision to resume POGO operations, the agency also seeks to preserve the employment of 31,556 Filipinos who were directly hired by said industry. Likewise, partial opening of POGOs will create ripples in economic activity, such as the real estate industry which has earned approximately P25 billion on leaseholds and rentals alone, as POGOs occupy 1,000,000 square-meter of office space.

PAGCOR allowed the reopening of POGO operations under Information and Communication Technology-Business Process Outsourcing (ICT-BPO) exemption. Businesses classified under ICT-BPO are those that are involved in non-primary business and functions, which will be allowed to operate under the existing community quarantine rule. #

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