The big Asian online gambling story of 2019 was the end of China’s patience with operators based in other Asia-Pacific countries serving mainland Chinese gamblers.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been noticeably warmer to China than previous administrations, initially said he’d “study” China’s “implied request” to shut down POGOs altogether, but ultimately concluded that the sector’s contribution to the government treasury was too great to forego.
POGOs didn’t have much time to celebrate, as the Philippines formed a Task Force POGO that began cracking down on POGOs and their service providers for not paying their full tax obligations and/or circumventing labor laws through illegal immigration. In December, Duterte threatened to slap/punch/shoot noncompliant POGO operators, giving them three days in which to amend their evil ways.
China’s anti-online efforts scored greater results in Cambodia, which announced in August that it wouldn’t renew any local online gambling licenses when they expired at the end of the year. The move was justified on the need to preserve “public order” but preserving its relationship with Beijing was clearly the order of the day.
China also publicly shamed junket operator Suncity Group, which Beijing accused of operating illegal online gambling services from its overseas VIP rooms. Suncity denied the allegations but announced that it would henceforth not participate in any form of gambling not authorized in Macau, regardless of whether said gambling activity was legal in the jurisdiction in which it was based.
China’s anti-gambling efforts also targeted online payment processors and credit card issuers and Beijing also announced plans to dramatically restrict youth access to online video games and young peoples’ ability to purchase in-game virtual products.
Macau’s casino market suffered a dramatic reversal in 2019, sliding back into negative growth after two years of positive traction. The slide was blamed on a number of factors, including the US-China trade war cutting into the discretionary income of some manufacturing high-rollers.