Are POGOs Actually Bouncing Back In 2022?

After nearly six years of scandal, it seemed for all the world that the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) market was quickly becoming a thing of the past.

With new international gambling crackdowns sweeping through China over the last two years or so, POGOs found themselves doubly in the hot seat, as mainland Chinese gamblers are effectively the exclusive target demographic of POGO operators.

Then, despite outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte standing firm in the face of various “cease and desist” demands from Beijing, the COVID-19 in January 2020 seemed to be the real nail in the coffin for POGOs.

Over half of all licensed POGOs quickly closed up shop in the face of the pandemic, and the remainder were slowly but surely running out of steam.

At the same time, the Philippine government was making good progress on addressing the unlicensed POGO phenomenon, forcing illicit operators out of business or leaning on them to make good on owed taxes.

However, the POGO market is perhaps more resilient than we thought.

Per, there’s new movement in the POGO space:

The Philippine offshore gaming operator (Pogo) industry may soon stage a comeback after a two-year slump, now that local tax regulations are in place and travel restrictions are easing, real estate veteran David Leechiu said.

The president of Leechiu Property Consultants (LPC) said that for the first time in 24 months, his group was about to close its first Pogo office property leasing deal.

“[It’s a] credible, sizable, chunky Pogo deal and when we sign this contract, we will throw a very big party in the office to celebrate this milestone achievement,” Leechiu said in a forum with the Nordic Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines last week. …

“It is quite possible that [POGOs] will make a comeback. They’ve already resolved issues with the Philippine government and certainly, it’s going to be less of an issue,” Leechiu said during the open forum.

Now, it’s our belief that the Philippines gambling sector doesn’t actually need POGOs.

The state already runs a robust pseudo-private local gambling industry, and – despite seeing massive revenue turndowns over the last two years – the Manila IR market is primed to give China’s restructured and now-disappointing Macau a real run for its money as the premier gambling destination in all of Asia.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government has eased restrictions on online gambling within its own borders.

Today, select locals – that is, those Filipino gamblers who are established “VIP” members at brick-and-mortar venues in the country – are finally able to play real-money online casino games hosted by domestic PH casinos.

Yes, for the time being, this does leave out the vast majority of Filipino gamblers, but we view the current gaming landscape as a sort of “beta test” or slow rollout.

It makes good financial sense that iGaming and online sports betting would eventually be made available to the rank-and-file gamblers in the islands, as the best Philippine offshore casinos – along with various highly rated Philippine offshore sportsbooks and international Philippine poker sites – are already extremely popular but have the distinct negative attribute of not actually providing PAGCOR with any tax-based revenues.

If the full gamut of online casino gambling, online sports betting, and online poker were made available to the casual gambler in the Philippines, POGOs would become functionally irrelevant – and the international political upheaval they’re responsible for would summarily abate.

The biggest snag there, of course, is that there’s a strong traditional pushback on the presence of such wide-open Philippine gambling access – whether in-person or online – that makes the issue less popular than one might imagine.

While Filipino gamblers aren’t necessarily thrilled about being effectively locked out from domestic online options (excluding e-Sabong, which is widely available in the Philippines), the “VIP”-based local gaming restriction is very much a compromise between the government and local community and religious leaders.

If you’ve been following the recent situation regarding the Grand Imperial Casino in Misasmis Oriental – or the controversy surrounding the construction of two new destination IRs in Boracay – you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about.

Of course, most of this is moot.

If the Philippine government wants to continue losing valuable gambling revenues to legal offshore betting sites that accept Philippine players, that’s not our problem.

It might not be good business, but it’s their business.

Meanwhile, enjoy the games!