Calls for Port Irene Gambling Activities Investigation
August 4, 2008 (InfoPowa News) — The Manila Times and the Philippine Daily Enquirer report two separate requests for an investigation into gambling activities in the Cagayan Export Zone Authority at Port Irene, an online gambling licensing jurisdiction.
Archbishop Oscar Cruz of the Lingayen-Dagupan diocese last week urged the Philippines Senate to look into the online gambling operations at the Cagayan Export Zone Authority in Port Irene, Sta. Ana, Cagayan. Bishop Cruz is a veteran campaigner against gambling and appears to have found a new target.
Regional representative Senator Nene Pimentel recommended that Bishop Cruz and other priests file a complaint in the Senate, saying that he was sensitive to the objections of the priests, but that the Senate could only act on charges filed before the chamber.
"The Senate cannot make the first move. They should come out to air their complaint formally," Nene stressed.
The Senate Committee on Ways and Means headed by Senator Chiz Escudero investigated the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) operations last week, but this was in connection with allegations of car smuggling, and not Internet gaming.
The Manila Times gave background on CEZA, claiming it was created through a law authored by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, a Cagayanon. The law authorised it to operate all kinds of sports and recreational activities, including online gambling, dog racing and gambling casino activities. Cagayan is the only province in the Philippines with a gambling establishment that has no license from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
Bishop Cruz described the gambling operation in Cagayan as "a slap in the face" to the government campaign against all forms of vice, although most online gambling is done by "foreigners." To neutralise opposition from the Catholic Church, which is against all forms of gambling, CEZA has argued that the casinos cater exclusively to foreign players or their proxies, with Filipinos barred from betting.
In a separate initiative, Senator Jamby Madrigal urged the Senate Ways and Means Committee to investigate the cyber gambling operations at the Cagayan Economic Zone (CEZ), which she said were "inexplicably" not covered by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor). The Senator said that Port Irene the only free port legally allowed to issue online gambling licenses to offshore companies without Pagcor's approval.
"That’s a grave abuse of discretion," said Madrigal, who added that the CEZ or any other special economic zone should not be allowed to have gambling operations not under the control of Pagcor.
Last year, Madrigal said, CEZA made P110 million in revenues, 90 percent of which came from casino earnings. Internet gaming firms are charged a two-percent tax on their gross earnings. The tax revenues are split between CEZA and the free port's master licensor, First Cagayan Leisure and Resorts Corp.
CEZA said it expected its revenues to double to over 200 million this year with the influx of more cyber gambling operators.
Senator Madrigal also drew attention to allegations that certain cyber gambling activities were taking place outside the Zone, specifically in Makati City, and this, too required investigation.
"I know for a fact that the cyber gambling operations there (Port Irene) have operations outside of CEZA. They have facilities at RCBC Plaza (in Makati)," she said. "It gives them an unfair advantage over their rivals. I think the Senate should include CEZA gambling in the hearings and ask why this is not included under Pagcor’s jurisdiction," Madrigal said.