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Defying China, Duterte decides to keep online gambling in Philippines

President eases real estate uncertainties with latest remarks

Slot machines glow at a casino in Metro Manila, Philippines, which has emerged as one of Asia's biggest gambling hubs.   © Reuters

MANILA -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said online gambling in the Philippines will continue over vocal opposition from Beijing, which has called for a crackdown on the industry.

Speaking at a televised briefing, Duterte said the industry, which generates billions of pesos in revenues and thousands of jobs, benefits the Philippines. Beijing accuses it of fueling cross-border money laundering and social problems in China.

"I decided that we need it," he told reporters. "Many will lose jobs [if it stops]."

Duterte's comments represent his clearest position yet on the issue, which has cast uncertainty over the local office and residential real estate markets.

Spokesperson Salvador Panelo had said Friday that Duterte would study an "implied request" from Chinese President Xi Jinping to ban the industry during the two leaders' meeting in Beijing last week.

"Out of courtesy," Duterte said, "I will listen to him, but I decide."

"We decide to the benefit [and] interest of my country," added Duterte, who was previously averse to gambling.

China, which prohibits gambling, said Manila's online casino industry, led by Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators -- or POGOs -- is targeting Chinese. Beijing last month called for a ban on online gambling, describing it as the "most dangerous tumor in modern society detested by people all across the world."

POGOs, which have flourished under Duterte, are expected to deliver 8 billion pesos ($154 million) in license fees alone for the government this year. The online gambling industry has driven office rentals and condominium sales in Manila, and employs around 350,000 people, over 100,000 of them Chinese who do marketing and customer service.

Duterte said the industry will be under government supervision and warned that he will shut down operators for "non-remittance," as the government starts taxing the foreign workers in the online gambling industry.

"I don't care who you are," he said. "Don't fool the government."

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