Duterte rejects China's call for Philippines to ban online gambling

MANILA, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday that while he was not a fan of online gambling he was unwilling to ban the business, as China has called for, because of the harm that would do to the country’s economy.

Duterte, who backed the Philippine gaming regulator’s move in late 2016 to license internet gambling, said on Wednesday he would not have allowed this “stupid activity” if there were plenty of jobs available.

“We decide to benefit the interest of my country. I decide that we need it,” Duterte said in a televised news conference, but gave a stern warning to online gambling operators not to avoid paying their fees.

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

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

The Philippine gaming regulator has issued licences to 60 online gambling companies but on Aug. 19 banned licences for new online gaming firms, as lawmakers and some ministers have called for tighter controls on Chinese visitors, saying many are illegal workers whose presence fans security concerns.

China said after that move that it hoped the Philippines will go further and ban online gaming to support its crackdown on cross-border gambling.

The Philippine central bank and the anti-money laundering body has been studying the scope of the online gambling industry to determine the impact on the economy if it stopped operating.

Cambodia last month heeded China’s plea to ban online gambling, an industry that brought in Chinese investment but had been used by foreign criminals to extort money. (Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales Editing by Frances Kerry )