Philippine Congress ponders US$244 million online wagers for STRs in 7 years

According to the Philippine anti-money laundering watchdog, recent interest from local lawmakers in a risk assessment report it wrote about the nation’s “Internet-based casino sector” in 2020 has been noted.

A total of 1,031 suspicious transaction reports (STRs) were mentioned in the report between 2013 and 2019, with a total estimated transaction value of PHP14.01 billion (US$244.2 million). The Anti-Money Laundering Council stated in a bulletin from this October that “the consequential impact, both social and economic, of the country’s Internet-based casino sector has been at the core of the country’s legislative body’s public hearings in recent weeks.” That was taken to partially refer to worries about social issues and criminal activity, such as kidnapping, that have been connected in official statements and media reports to some individuals allegedly involved with illegal online gambling in that country.

In a 31-page report summarizing its findings from 2020, the watchdog stated: “Of particular interest to the legislators is the AMLC’s Internet-Based Casino Sector Risk Assessment released in 2020 that highlighted money laundering typologies and suspicious (red flag) indicators derived primarily from suspicious transaction report (STR) (STR) involving the sector) indicators.” The watchdog noted an upward trend between 2013 and 2016, with a peak in that year’s 332 STRs involving transactions totaling PHP8.8 billion. After that, from 2017 through 2019, there had been a “relative decline.”

According to the AMLC, the 2020 report had noted that “no underlying legal or trade obligation, purpose, or economic justification” accounted for 565, or 55%, of the total STR data set, and that this suspicious circumstance underlies the majority of STRs filed in terms of volume.

The “Internet-based casino sector” was described in the report as including the operations of “gaming laboratories,” “interactive gaming licensees,” or foreign businesses that had been registered with or granted a license by the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, “interactive gaming support service providers,” Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), and “service providers” that “provide components of offshore gaming operations to offshore gaming operators.” If land-based casinos that stream casino games live or allow proxy gambling at live tables were included in the suspicious transaction report analysis was not made clear in the document.

The casino industry in the Philippines permits casino proxy gambling, which entails placing bets on behalf of a player who is not physically present in a gaming establishment. This was cited as one of the Philippines’ “ongoing deficiencies” in the anti-money laundering system in a 2018 report by the United States Department of State’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

The Philippine government has also allowed domestic consumers to play online games, including through the issuance of so-called Philippine Inshore Gaming Operator (PIGO) licenses, in an effort to support the sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Philippine Congress ponders US$244 million online wagers for STRs in 7 years (1)