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Duterte to consider Xi request to ban online casinos

Manila real estate stocks fall as leaders' summit fuels uncertainty

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, made an "implied request" that the Philippines ban online gambling, according to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.   © Reuters

MANILA -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will study the possibility of winding down the country's booming offshore gambling industry after Chinese President Xi Jinping raised the subject at summit meeting in Beijing on Thursday.

Known as Philippine Online Gaming Operators, or Pogos, the industry is mainly aimed at China, where gambling is banned, and has become a powerful economic driver in Manila, employing hundreds of thousands of people.

The demand for office space and housing has also boosted Philippine real estate stocks which plunged Friday amid confusion over the future of the industry.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Duterte's spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Xi made an "implied request" to ban online gambling in the Philippines, which Beijing says fuels money laundering and causes social problems in China. "The president most likely will study [it]," Panelo said.

Manila's gaming regulator last week said it would stop issuing new Pogo licenses, after Beijing hit out at the industry. Earlier this week, Philippine central bank governor Benjamin Diokno said he was studying the economic impact of shutting down the industry.

"President Xi appreciated that we suspended [the issuance of] new licenses but he said they would appreciate more if Pogos will be eliminated or stopped," Panelo said.

Leading real estate developers Ayala Land fell 0.51% on Friday, while shares in SM Prime and Megaworld fell 0.57% and 0.83% respectively.

The Xi-Duterte summit produced "no clarity" on the future for Pogo stakeholders, said Luis Limlingan, an analyst at Manila brokerage Regina Capital Development.

Cambodia, which is heavily reliant on Chinese investments, has also moved to wind down its own offshore gambling industry.

Double Dragon Properties, a mid-size developer that caters to offshore gaming operators, said his company could withstand a Pogo ban, arguing that operators pay a year's worth of rent deposit, enough to give them time to look for new tenants.

"We would like that to continue because we get better yields," CEO Edgar Sia told reporters. "But just in case -- worst case scenario, we are covered."

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