And just like that, we were right.
Of course, so was everyone else.
Back when the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic first kicked off in 2020 and led to long-term Manila casino closures, we posited that local politicians – up to and including President Rodrigo Duterte – would probably change their tunes on the Philippine gambling industry.
For years, Duterte was a hardliner against domestic gambling, as this Reuters piece from August 2018 demonstrates.
Three years ago, the popular statesman had this to say:
“I hate gambling. I do not want it. There will be no casinos outside of what are existing. I am not granting anything.”
Fast forward to this month, and Duterte – as famously blunt as ever – has changed his tune, likely in line with the rest of the government in the islands:
“Go ahead and gamble. Now that we need money, the most sensible thing is really just to encourage those activities.”
This is indeed sensible, and it’s been driven entirely by the massive decline in PAGCOR revenue as a result of COVID.
While Duterte has long as opposed the pastime (especially for native Filipinos), crises have a tendency to change hearts and minds.
In this case, the change is a good one.
The people of the Philippines enjoy casino gambling and sports betting, and having better access to both is a huge boon.
That said, while gaming stocks in the Philippines rose on news of the change in approach (operators saw an average increase in stock price of some 7.5%), it’s still unclear if the new approach will lead to more access for rank-and-file residents.
While the Philippines did legalize limited domestic iGaming among up to four Entertainment City operators, only so-called VIP gamblers were allowed to bet online.
This left most of the populace with the sole option of offshore casino gaming and sports betting at reputable international betting sites.
Of course, that’s not a bad thing, and it’s arguably a much better thing than being stuck with domestically licensed gambling options, given the increased variety of online casino games and sports betting lines these overseas venues provide.
However, if the Philippines intends for their once-thriving gaming market to take back off despite the threat of further lockdowns looming on the horizon due to the “delta” variant, it will need to extend local gambling to players of more modest means.
And that applies to both in-person and online betting.
Realistically, the cat’s out of the bag, and it’s only a matter of time before gambling becomes locally accessible to most residents instead of just the wealthy elite.
But in the meantime, games are still being played, money is still being won, and the 2021 PBA season is finally underway.
If you want to gamble legally and safely, just remember that you don’t have to wait for permission or domestic access.
You already have the former, provided you use a legitimate offshore option, and the latter is unlikely to be any more compelling than existing avenues even after the door is thrown wide open.