THE GOVERNMENT is wielding another tool in its bid to better regulate Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) — which are estimated to be costing the state some P22.5 billion annually in foregone revenues due to untaxed foreign workers — encouraging such establishments to locate in hubs, the industry’s regulator said on Friday.
“It’s easier for us to regulate when they are in hubs,” Andrea D. Domingo, chairman and chief executive officer of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., told reporters at the sidelines of the Phil-Asian Gaming Expo 2019 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.
In order to entice POGOs to locate in such hubs, “there are some special privileges”, Ms. Domingo added.
PAGCOR’s Offshore Gaming Regulatory Manual, dated July 3 last year, said that offshore gaming licences of hub locators are valid for three years and renewable for seven years, compared to three years with a three-year extension for those operating outside such areas.
Ms. Domingo said PAGCOR has so far approved two such hubs: one in Clark Freeport and Special Economic Zone measuring about 10 hectares that is now operational and the other planned in Kawit, Cavite that will measure some 30 ha.
State agencies that have a role in POGO regulation will have offices in such hubs, which also have office and residential spaces; food establishments; groceries and convenience stores; service shops as well as health, wellness and entertainment facilities.
“We want the facilities to be world-class, and then of course — the dorms, they should be decent, the quarters fit for human residents. Kapag nasa hub na rin kasi ‘yung mga residences, pwede na rin kami mag-inspect ‘yung living conditions ng workers (If the residences are in the hubs, we can also inspect the living conditions of the workers).”
This push comes amid moves by the Finance department to account for foreign POGO workers. Among others, POGOs are now required to be registered with the Bureau of Internal Revenue as part of requirements for license renewal. This will enable the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to monitor remittance of taxes withheld on POGOs foreign workers.
The government has also been drawing up a database of POGOs’ foreign workers using information from the Department of Foreign Affairs, which issues visas; the Department of Justice which oversees the Bureau of Immigration that grants short-term special work permits to foreigners; the Department of Labor and Employment that issues alien employment permits; the Department of Trade and Industry that oversees special economic zones where a few POGOs operate; the Securities and Exchange Commission with which POGOs register and PAGCOR itself.
As of March, BIR had 54 POGO licensees on its list, of which 10 were locals and 44 were offshore operators. At that time, seven of the local operators and only eight of the offshore licensees had been registered with the tax bureau.
Immigration data as of the same month showed that less than 95,000 foreign nationals had various forms of temporary work permits as POGO employees.
Efforts to account for POGOs’ foreign workers have enabled the BIR to initially send out notices ordering these businesses to remit taxes due them as withholding agents, with estimated levies now totaling some P7.44 billion.
At the sidelines of the Phil-Asian Gaming Expo 2019 on Friday, Kevin Wong, general manager of PAGCOR-accredited online gaming operator Oriental Group, told reporters: “If you locate in a POGO hub, no one would say illegal ‘yan because all the government agencies are already there.”
“When all other people saying so and so about our industry, we want to remove that [image].” — RJNI