By Jasper Y. Arcalas, August 15, 2023; Business Mirror

State-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) said it wants to privatize all of its 45 casinos as early as the third quarter of 2025 as the agency decouples its dual role as a gaming regulator and operator.

“My thrust is to privatize the 45 properties of Pagcor. I am looking at 2025 as my timeline. In fact, I have been doing some studies on the said privatizations,” Pagcor Chairman Alejandro H. Tengco told the House Committee of Appropriations during the agency’s budget hearing on Monday.

Tengco said, at present, Pagcor is trying to increase the value of its properties to be able to hike the future privatization proceeds.

Tengco also emphasized that the privatization plan of Pagcor “cannot be stopped” since it has the imprimatur of President Marcos Jr.

“It is clear that Pagcor should purely be a regulator and not an operator at the same time,” he said, while noting that the third quarter of 2025 would be the earliest target for the privatization.

The Department of Finance (DOF) has been of the view that Pagcor’s dual roles are conflicting and that the government-owned and -controlled corporation should only be left with its regulatory function.

The chair of the Senate Public Services committee, Sen. Grace Poe, had earlier also weighed in in favor of privatization,  saying Pagcor could perform better if it did not have to carry out two conflicting mandates as regulator and operator.

Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez, however, questioned the privatization plan of Pagcor and even went on to say that he would file a bill to oppose such proposed measure.

Rodriguez argued that Pagcor would lose its “regularity of income” if its casinos were privatized.

“Why are we going to sell the goose that lays the golden egg?” he said during the budget hearing.

However, Tengco defended Pagcor’s plan, arguing that maintaining the agency’s dual roles would mean continued “unethical” practice.

“Unfortunately, there is an impropriety,” he said. “We are the only [gaming agency] around the world that is a regulator and is also an operator,” he added.

The Pagcor chief, who has since assuming office undertaken thorough reforms in the agency‚including replacing the third-party auditor his predecessors hired for regulating online gambling entities—admitted that Pagcor has been remiss in regulating its very own gambling operations. This, he noted, is “unfair” to private licensed casinos.

“I have to be very candid and honest that sometimes we overlook regulating ourselves. We are being unfair to those we have given licenses to,” Tengco said.