Manila firm gets nod to operate Internet casino

By Luz Baguioro, The Straits Times, 5 July 2000

An Internet connection and either a credit card or a prepaid card are all that are required to play the games

GAMING operators are on a roll, much to the chagrin of the Roman Catholic church, as the Philippine government and private companies prepare to launch new gambling ventures in coming weeks.

Sports and Games Entertainment Corp (Sage), a two-year-old company, has obtained an exclusive government licence to operate an Internet casino starting next month.

With minimum bets ranging from US$1 (S$1.73) to US$25, anyone at least 21 years old can play Blackjack, Craps, Mini Baccarat, Roulette, Sic Bo, Premier Slots, Atlantis Slots, Video Poker and Video Keno on-line.

All that is required are an Internet connection and either a credit card or a prepaid card denominated from 100 pesos (S$3.94) to 5000 pesos. Games can be played in either of eight languages—English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Spanish and French. The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, the state-run lottery agency, is to unveil the “Super Lotto” next week and is finalising plans to introduce a variation of the popular yet illegal numbers game called “jueteng” before year-end.

Awaiting congressional approval are proposals to legalise jueteng, allow online betting for cockfights, and introduce the Japanese gambling sport keirin.

The gambling rush is likely to raise the hackles of church officials.

“It all depends on a man's personality. The problem is not gambling per se, if what they say is gambling at all,” said President Joseph Estrada, whose campaign for the presidency in 1998 hit a snag with the release of a video showing him playing high-stakes baccarat at a local casino with a known gambling lord.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor)—the government-controlled agency that has the exclusive franchise to run casinos and other gambling operations—will get 20 per cent of the Internet casino's gross revenues in return for granting the company the right to operate an Internet gambling site.

“The important thing is to be realistic and to consider the pragmatic side of gaming,” Press Undersecretary Michael Toledo said.

Revenues reaped from gaming ventures fund charity projects, disaster relief and scholarships to indigent students, he said.