THE Palace acknowledged Thursday that President Rodrigo R. Duterte appeared to be telling the gambling regulator to expand gaming operations in his address to Congress Monday, though detailed instructions have yet to be delivered to the various government departments.

In a briefing at the Palace Thursday, Spokesman Salvador S. Panelo was asked if the President plans to lift the moratorium on new casinos after announcing Monday in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) that he wants the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) to “push for more gambling” after the agency reported high revenues.

“That would be the logical consequence of what he said,” Mr. Panelo replied.

Asked in a chance interview if the matter will be tackled at the next Cabinet meeting, he said: “Wala pang (There is no) Cabinet meeting… I will let you know kung kasama sa (if it’s in the) agenda.”

Asked to comment, PAGCOR Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Andrea D. Domingo told BusinessWorld via mobile phone: “I have not met with the President, and I do not interpret his statement to mean lifting of the ban — but I will try to verify with him the first chance I get.”

In the SONA, Mr. Duterte said: “As of July 9, 2019, we collected more than P61 billion from GOCCs or government corporations, 32% of which, or P16 billion, from PAGCOR. This is more than the P36 billion collected in 2017.”

He added: “My salute to Andrea Domingo. Magpasugal ka pa, ma’am, nang marami (Promote more gambling, ma’am).”

Malacañang officially announced in February last year that the President had ordered a moratorium on new casinos.

Mr. Panelo also said at the briefing on Thursday that the President hopes to increase online gambling operations and wants the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to improve its collections because the additional revenue will fund salary hikes for government employees, including teachers and nurses.

Gusto ni Presidente na dagdagan pa iyong online gambling, legal casino para marami tayong makuha… (The President wants more online gambling and legal casinos to increase our take.) He urged also the Bureau of Customs to improve on their collections,” Mr. Panelo said.

In the SONA, the President said of the BoC: “Though corruption-ridden, [it] managed to collect P585 billion in 2018. Imagine how much more could have been collected had the BoC been clean and less corrupt.” — Arjay L. Balinbin