January 4, 2017 10:20 am JST

Online gambling may be Duterte's next target

Philippine leader's comments send stocks plunging

JUN ENDO, Nikkei staff writer

Duterte is believed to be supportive of an increase in physical casinos, like this one in Manila Bay.

MANILA -- Online gambling companies in the Philippines are suffering in the stock market after President Rodrigo Duterte said that he plans to shutter the industry, with some fearing a crackdown similar to the country's deadly campaign against drugs.

"I am ordering the closure of all online gaming," Duterte said in a speech Dec. 22 after signing the national budget, citing a lack of government oversight.

PhilWeb, which runs the e-Games online platform, ended that day's session down 30.3% at 8.30 pesos. Other internet-based gambling companies dropped as well.

Duterte made a similar threat at the end of June, shortly after taking office. State regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming refused to renew PhilWeb's license, but the company's shares recovered in August following reports that the president was easing his stance.

Duterte seems to once again be taking a hard line following a November gambling and immigration raid at a casino operation near Manila, where over 1,300 Chinese were detained. The casino is believed to have been involved in online gambling as well. Duterte ordered the arrest of the Chinese tycoon behind the operation, but he fled the country.

The Philippines has been criticized for lax regulation of the casino industry that has allowed it to become a hotbed for money laundering. In addition to a brutal crackdown on drugs, Duterte is pursuing other hard-line policies, such as banning smoking in all public places.

A third casino is set to open early this year in Manila Bay. Duterte is not rescinding support for gambling operations as a whole, but the industry is anxiously watching whether the president will adopt the same unrelenting attitude with online gambling as he did with drugs.

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