A new bill in the Philippines would authorize casinos to charge citizens an entrance fee before they can come inside and gamble. If House Bill No. 4859 is approved, Filipinos will have to shell out P3,500 for the privilege of playing at any one of the country's gambling halls, including Manila's Solaire and Resorts World Manila, or RWM.
The USD equivalent to 3,500 Philippine pesos is about $80. Government officials hope this substantial fee would deter poverty-stricken Filipinos from entering and spending their money frivolously on casino games. While it's true that the Philippine economy is now experiencing an upswing, it's still a poverty-stricken nation overall. Some of the main causes of Philippine poverty, according to the Asian Development Bank, are inflation, a poor job market, and rapid population growth.
Problem Gambling in the Philippines
In spite of the high incidence of poverty in the Philippines, gambling is somewhat of a “national pastime” in that country. In any society, problems naturally arise when poverty and gambling addiction mix. Those who have the misfortune of being both poor and addicted sink further and further into debt. Several organizations in the Philippines are working to combat the widespread problem of gambling addiction.
The Mamamayan Ayaw sa Sugal, otherwise known as M.A.S.S., espouses the strict belief that even occasional gambling is wrong and signifies a need for personal rehabilitation. The group defines gambling as “an emotional problem with financial consequences.” According to M.A.S.S., no one in the Philippines should gamble at all. This staunch philosophy differs from the North American take on gambling. In the U.S., wagering for money is acceptable if done in moderation and as long as it does not lead to other problems.
The United States' National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that about 1 percent of all Americans are pathological bettors. This adds up to approximately 3 million people. According to the council, an additional 2-3 percent of Americans are not considered to have a “pathological" problem, but their infliction is still severe. If these American percentages apply to the Filipino population, it follows that not all Filipinos who gamble will acquire an addiction problem. This line of thinking flies in the face of the M.A.S.S. philosophy, suggesting that only a fraction of all bettors are at risk for addiction.
“All or Nothing” Philosophy
The M.A.S.S.'s “all or nothing” philosophy does not line up with the thinking behind House Bill No. 4859. According to the bill, citizens can play at casinos as long as they have the P3,500 to get in. If M.A.S.S. had their way, Filipinos would be barred completely from all of the country's gambling halls whether they could pay the admission fee or not.
Anti-Illegal Gambling Special Operations Task Force
House Bill 4859 isn't the only way the government has gotten involved in the effort to curb problem gambling. In 2012, a group called the Anti-Illegal Gambling Special Operations Task Force was established to encourage the Philippine National Police, or PNP, to do a better job cracking down on those who gamble irresponsibly. The lengthy acronym for this anti-gambling task force is PNP-AIGSOTF.
The concept behind the task force is that Filipino policemen should take more personal responsibility for the illegal and pathological gambling activities of their constituents. Theoretically, any incidents of problem and/or illegal gambling could lead to the firing of the policemen who failed to prevent them. Not only that, but any regional police director who oversees two or more corrupt subordinates could also theoretically be relieved of his/her duties.
While the task force was meant to tighten the country's rein over its gamblers, it may have instead led to even more corruption amongst the police. According to sources, it's no secret that between 15 and 30 of the country's police officers are actually gambling lords who show up for work only on pay days, when they collect their checks and then leave. These corrupt officials get away with their thinly veiled deception with the help of other police force members who serve as “bagmen.” A bagman is a junior officer who oversees the corrupt schemes of his colleagues, and according to sources, every police station and district in the Philippines has one.
Government to Crack Down on Corrupt Police Officers with “Lifestyle Checks”
Because police-sponsored gambling corruption is such an “open secret” amongst Filipinos, the government has decided to crack down on PNP officers by conducting “lifestyle checks.” The checks will be supervised by the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Internal Revenue, or BIR. It is hoped that corrupt officers will be released from duty based on the results of their check. Some of the lifestyle factors to be evaluated include the officers' financial statements as filed with the BIR.
Policemen who live in mansions, drive expensive cars, and exhibit other signs that they have an exorbitant amount of cash on hand will be targeted by the checks. The salary of a Filipino policeman is a modest one; an officer who is suddenly able to afford a life of excessive luxury will have to explain to the authorities how he came into his money. Manuel Roxas, secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, or DILG, said that there is “nothing wrong” with the officers acquiring extra money through honest, legal means. “If their wealth came from illegal activities,” he said, “that would be . . . (a) problem because we will run after them.”
Philippine Emergence as a Gambling State
In spite of the crackdown on locals who gamble, the Philippines islands have become one of the world's most popular gambling destinations. Developers in the region have worked hard to cultivate an enticing casino community in the Philippines, and the islands now pose a competitive threat to both Macau and Singapore.