Tue, May 09, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Philippines, China join forces in fight on illegal gambling

Reuters, MANILA and HONG KONG

China and the Philippines have joined forces to tackle illegal gambling, part of Beijing’s broader campaign to curb illicit capital outflows and a pledge by Manila to weed out unscrupulous operators from the country’s booming gaming industry.

The coordinated crackdown comes amid warming ties between Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and his Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has made illegal gambling the third front in his all-out war on crime, after drugs and corruption.

In their first joint exercise, Philippine and Chinese authorities last month cracked a transnational cybergambling operation, shutting four illegal Web sites run out of the Philippines, arresting 99 people and freezing more than 1,000 bank accounts, China’s Public Security Bureau said.

Philippines National Bureau of Investigation cybercrime division chief Martini Cruz told reporters authorities were preparing further raids for this month targeting illegal betting and online fraud originating in the Philippines and targeted at Chinese gamblers.

“We have been visited by Chinese police to crack down on these illegal gambling operators. They are also targeting possible fugitives who have made our country a sanctuary,” Cruz said.

So far, the crackdown has not targeted proxy betting, which is permitted in licensed casinos in the Philippines and has contributed to a boom in VIP revenues. Casinos in the country raked in nearly US$3 billion in overall revenue last year.

The practice, in which a gambler outside the casino gives instructions to an agent via a lives tream or online platform, allows people to bet anonymously and can allow players to escape the attention of authorities in their home countries.

While proxy gambling is banned in Singapore and in Macau, the world’s largest gambling hub, it operates in a legal gray area in the Philippines and officials tend to tread cautiously when discussing the subject.

Chinese law forbids Chinese from gambling online and at home. The Chinese Public Security Bureau has made repeated statements since March that transnational cybergambling is harmful to the country’s economic security, image and stability.

However, proxy betting is growing at such a pace in the Philippines that Suncity, the top junket operator bringing in high rollers from China, last month told reporters that 80 percent of its business comes from proxy gambling and 20 percent from customers traveling to casinos for live table games.

In a VIP area in a Manila casino, Chinese and South Koreans wearing earpieces shuffle from table to table after a series of bets, carrying rectangular white plastic trays containing gaming chips and smartphones.

For now, proxy gambling continues to boost the VIP coffers in the Philippines with mega casinos Solaire and City of Dreams reporting double digit VIP volume growth in the first quarter this year.

The casinos do not report proxy betting figures.

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