Makati halts permits to POGO shops

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ONE of the Philippines’ central business districts has stopped giving permits to establishments that cater to workers of offshore gaming operators as it tries to curb rising criminality including prostitution in the city.

“We would no longer accept new applications for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) service providers and crack down hard against illegal activities that are catering to POGOs and their employees within Makati,” Mayor Mar-Len Abigail S. Binay said.

Increased demand for housing and workstations in Makati from foreign workers of POGOs — many of them Chinese — has led to a property boom.

The mayor cited “overheating” in the local property sector, where the growth in residential and commercial leasing market has become unsustainable.

In the past two months, the local government shut down two businesses that were used as prostitution dens, and one unsanitary restaurant and catering company, all of which were ran by illegal POGO service providers.

Police also seized P2.5 billion worth of drugs during a raid of an apartment being rented by a Chinese national.

Ms. Binay said the moratorium on business permits was aligned with the government’s thrust to stop illegal activities related to offshore gaming operators.

In August, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) stopped issuing new licenses to POGOs cue to national security and economic concerns.

Pagcor Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer Andrea D. Domingo said the moratorium would also prevent the country from being the “catch basin” of fleeing operators after the ban on online gaming in Cambodia.

The Finance department has ordered the Bureau of Internal Revenue to close down online gaming operators that have failed to pay taxes.

The tax agency has closed down three POGO service providers and collected P1.2 billion in withholding taxes since the start of the crackdown in September. The service providers later reopened after paying taxes.

The House ways and means committee earlier approved a bill that seeks to impose a 5% tax on offshore gaming companies. The tax will replace the 2% gross revenue tax on Pagcor licensees.

The bill also increases to 25% the tax on foreign POGO employees’ salaries and allowances from 15%.

On Nov. 29, President Rodrigo R. Duterte gave POGOs three days to fix their tax liabilities.

There are 60 accredited online gaming operators in the country with more than 87,000 employees, according to Pagcor. — Genshen L. Espedido