Gambling is illegal in mainland China, but metropolitan Manila has emerged as a leading offshore centre for companies offering punters proxy betting since Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ pro-China president, took power in 2016.
Manila’s booming online gambling business is one of the fastest-growing outshoots of the country’s $25bn-a-year outsourcing industry, and one of the most vivid examples of how Mr Duterte’s political and economic tilt toward China is transforming the Philippines.
Online gaming has burgeoned since 2016, when the Duterte administration handed responsibility for licensing the sector to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, which went on to approve dozens of operators. By its own count, there are 56, mostly Chinese-owned.
So-called Pogos — Philippine offshore gambling operators — employ more than 100,000 Chinese nationals, thousands more Filipinos are driving up property prices in the metropolitan region. But the influx of companies and foreign workers has fuelled concerns about tax avoidance, organised crime, and social friction in a country where every job is precious.
“The Pogo phenomenon is generating revenues and jobs for the Philippine economy,” said Rommel Banlaoi, president of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies. “But at the same time, it has unintended costs, like prostitution, tensions between Filipinos and Chinese, and law enforcement problems.”