CASINOS across the country will soon be covered by the anti-money laundering law after both chambers of Congress approved the measure concerned on third and final reading.

Voting unanimously, the House of Representatives approved last Monday House Bill No. 5663, or “An Act Designating Casinos as Covered Persons under Republic Act (RA) No. 9160, otherwise known as the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001 (AMLA), as amended.”

The Senate approved its own measure, Senate Bill No. 1468, in plenary session yesterday.

Both House and Senate versions seek to count casinos — including Internet and ship-based facilities — chipwashing and junket operators among “covered persons” under AMLA. They also set the threshold amount for coverage at a minimum of P5 million, or its equivalent in any foreign currency, per transaction.

The threshold of other covered transactions under the RA 9160, as amended, is over P500,000.

The development comes a little more than a year after the February 2016 heist of some $81 million from Bangladesh Bank’s accounts with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that eventually found its way into the Philippines and much of which disappeared after being used to play in casinos here.

Of the total that found its way into the Philippine system, only about $15 million has so far been returned to Bangladesh.

Philippine lawmakers had ignored as early as four years ago calls by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force to include casinos among entities watched by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), arguing that doing so would scare away investors and stunt a gaming boom.

RA 9160, among others, formed AMLC and gave it powers “to freeze any monetary instrument or property alleged to be proceeds of any unlawful activity.”

The House version, states that casinos’ P5-million threshold may be adjusted by the AMLC “upon the recommendation of the congressional oversight committee.”

The Senate version, meanwhile, proposes that a 20-day freeze order may be issued immediately by the Court of Appeals.

Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies, said in his sponsorship speech that the passage of the bill was “necessary” given the June deadline imposed by the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) for the Philippines to strengthen the AMLA. The APG is an international body that monitors the implementation and enforcement of internationally accepted standards against money laundering and financing of terrorism.

Samar Rep. Ben P. Evardone, chairman of the House committee on banks and financial intermediaries, said that both chambers of Congress do not need to meet in a bicameral conference committee since the Senate version is “acceptable” to the House members.

“We will no longer meet as bicam because the amendments in the Senate version [are] acceptable to us. So we will just adopt their amendments so that it will be approved before we adjourn this week,” Mr. Evardone said in a text message to BusinessWorld.

The AMLC charter was last amended in February 2013 to include foreign exchange dealers, pawnshops and pre-need companies as entities that should be monitored.

A US State department report, “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes 2017” published in March, tagged the Philippines as a “major” money laundering site in 2016, noting that “[c]riminal groups use the Philippine banking system, commercial enterprises, and particularly casinos, to transfer drug and other illicit proceeds from the Philippines to offshore accounts.”