By Charmaine A. Tadalan, March 13 2019; Business World

Image Credit to Business World

THE Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) asserted its exclusive authority under the law to regulate games of chance, after the Quezon City government announced a proposed ordinance seeking to regulate gaming firms within the city.

“The provisions in the law are clear. PAGCOR is vested the authority to ensure that proper regulations are in place so as not to endanger the interests of the country — including cities and LGUs (local government units),” PAGCOR said in a statement issued Tuesday, citing among others Presidential Decree No. 771, which revoked the authority of LGUs to issue licenses and permits for gambling operations.

Quezon City Vice Mayor Ma. Josefina G. Belmonte announced the pending ordinance, which seeks, among other things, to collect entry fees to minimize access to gaming enterprises.

“If the local government of Quezon City abhors gambling — so as to create measures that are beyond its power — it should not have issued Bloomberry Resorts Corp. a Letter of No Objection (LONO) and Resolution of No Objection,” PAGCOR added. Bloomberry is set to build the Solaire Casino on a 1.57 hectare site at the Ayala Vertis North Complex in Quezon City.

The city government issued the LONO to the casino-resort project on Jan. 10.

PAGCOR added that amendments to City Ordinance No. SP-2285, S-2014, allowed the establishment of gaming operations of P1 billion in investment size, and authorized the Office of the Mayor’s Business Permits and Licensing Office to grant LONO to. It noted that the Acting Presiding Officer when the resolution was decided was Councilor Roderick M. Paulate.

PAGCOR added that the Vice Mayor’s concerns about gambling addiction among Quezon City residents is not appropriately addressed by entry fees, which could also lower overall gambling revenue.

“PAGCOR has long been advocating the Code of Practice for Responsible Gaming, which is being adopted by all PAGCOR-operated and licensed entities — in order to minimize the potential harm of gambling to the individual and the community,” it also said. It said based on the Gaming Research & Review Journal published by the University of Nevada-Las Vegas will “drive away recreational gamblers but will make problem gamblers less price-sensitive.”

In response, Ms. Belmonte said she will support the passage of the ordinance despite PAGCOR opposition. Ms. Belmonte said she would “welcome” any attempt to file a temporary restraining order on the ordinance to allow the matter to play out in court.

She said proposed entry fees will be applicable to all gambling operations within the city and will only cover Quezon City residents. She also said the ordinance was modeled after that of Singapore, which also restricts access to locals in its “integrated resorts.”

“The entrance fees are not required for all but just for Quezon City residents (consistent) with the fact that casinos are meant to be tourist destinations… and not primarily for locals. Tourists (will not be) required to submit to the regulatory measures proposed,” Ms. Belmonte said in a statement Wednesday.

She added: “Mayor Herbert Bautista issued a letter of no objection to the casino knowing that this will allegedly comprise less than 5% of the footprint of the proposed entertainment city, but he is one with the city council’s decision to regulate gambling. In fact, the letter of no objection was issued by the mayor with precise instructions to the city council to pass a regulatory measure to discourage locals from going to the casino without prejudice to the tourism directive.”

Bloomberry Resorts Corp. had not issued comment at deadline time. — Charmaine A. Tadalan