Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he will not ban online casinos, despite China’s appeals for him to do so, citing damage it would do to his country’s economy.
In a news conference late Wednesday, Duterte said he told his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, while visiting Beijing last week that he would not launch a crackdown on casinos because the industry was an economic boon that was creating jobs and drawing many visitors from China.
The president made the comments a month after China’s foreign ministry called on Manila to ban online gaming involving Chinese citizens, as Beijing sought support on its crackdown against cross-border gambling. Beijing had justified the ban as necessary because “online gaming is a most dangerous tumor in modern society” and foreign criminals, it said, were using the sector to embezzle money.
“Maybe out of courtesy I will listen to you, but I decide. I decide that we need it. Many will lose their jobs,” Duterte said when asked what he told Xi in their meeting last week.
The Philippine leader backed the country’s gaming regulator when it moved to license online gambling in 2016, the year he became president. But Duterte said he would have not allowed what he called “this stupid activity” if there had been plenty of job opportunities for Filipinos.
However, he urged Philippine offshore gaming operators to pay their taxes to the government, or face consequences.
“If you make the mistake of not remitting, even if you’re a gambling lord, I don’t care who you are,” Duterte told the news conference.
An estimated 200,000 Chinese nationals are working in the country, according to data from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Labor and Employment. Many of them are employed in the gaming industry, including in online casinos that cater to Chinese nationals.
However, the influx of Chinese nationals into the Philippines has led to calls from nationalist groups to ban the activity, saying that the presence of Chinese workers here was also causing social problems, such as soaring rental rates for office and commercial properties.
Earlier, Duterte’s defense chief, Delfin Lorenzana, had expressed alarm over the influx of Chinese workers, suggesting that casinos known to employ Chinese citizens could be used as a cover by Beijing to spy on Philippine military and security installations located near the gaming businesses.