Philippines c. bank chief would rather online gambling firms leave

SINGAPORE, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Banning online gambling will have little impact on the Philippines economy, its central bank chief said on Tuesday, after China urged Manila to outlaw the cross-border activities it says pose money laundering risks.

Philippines Central Bank Governor Benjamin Diokno, who has ordered a study on the economic impact of halting online gambling, told Reuters he would rather the operators exit the country.

Regional neighbour Cambodia announced it would ban online gambling earlier this year.

“There’s some benefits, in terms of if they pay their taxes but there are also some risks. I tend to be risk averse. I’d rather they leave, if I have my way,” Diokno said on the sidelines of a business event in Singapore.

Online gambling companies, known in the Philippines as POGOs for Philippine offshore gambling operators, are a boon for the local economy, drawing many visitors from China who work in them, fuelling property demand and retail spending.

The POGOs, which bar Filipinos from playing, contribute to national coffers through license fees.

But Diokno said that the industry contributed only “a few billion” pesos in tax and had little impact on the real estate sector, while he said it presented “a risk of money laundering”.

China has said it hopes the Philippines will ban online gaming to support its crackdown on cross-border gambling, which it said is used by foreign criminals to embezzle funds and illegally recruit workers.

The Philippine gaming regulator has stopped issuing licenses to online gambling firms, and lawmakers and some ministers have called for tighter controls on Chinese visitors, saying many are illegal workers whose presence raises security concerns.

“We have already stopped giving licenses in the first place. Should they violate our tax laws, we will expel them,” Diokno said.

According to official data, there are only 60 POGOs operating in the country, but critics of the industry say that grossly undercounts the actual number.

Reporting by Fathin Ungku and John Geddie; editing by Christian Schmollinger