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Philippines to issue new online gambling permits, targets foreign punters

* After drugs crackdown, Duterte turns his guns on gambling

* Govt wants gambling operators to target overseas punters

* Not renewing permits for services used by poor Filipinos

MANILA, Aug 23 (Reuters) - The Philippines will issue online gaming licenses soon for operators that target overseas punters, seeking a new revenue source after deciding not to renew permits for services used by poor Filipinos.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has already unleashed a crackdown on drugs, is turning his guns on a booming online gaming industry and this month scrapped one firm’s monopoly of gambling in licensed online cafes.

Instead, the government wants to encourage more casino and betting operators to set up online services that target gamblers overseas.

“We’re readying the application forms. It’s no longer the Filipinos who are betting but foreigners,” Andrea Domingo, head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor), told reporters after a budget hearing at the House of Representatives.

She did not stipulate how many of these licences for offshore gaming would be offered, but said they would be issued for six months initially and that Pagcor plans to charge “high fees”.

“We don’t know yet how saleable it is,” she said. “There might be no takers, or there could be many applicants.”

The permits will be offered on a first-come-first-serve basis and reviewed after six months, Domingo said. She did not give any idea of how much they will cost.

“If it is profitable then we will finetune,” she said, adding the issuance of permits will be “very transparent”.

The Philippine gaming industry is one of Asia’s most freewheeling, attracting scores of online foreign companies over the past decade to set up servers aimed at overseas punters, and has lured investments of billions of dollars in casino resorts.

Domingo said the fees collected from the new licences could help offset the loss of about 10 billion pesos ($215 million) in annual revenues following the government’s decision not to renew the licenses of operating e-bingo and e-games outlets.

Pagcor, which also regulates casinos, contributed 8.9 billion pesos to the state coffers in May, representing dividends from 2015.

Duterte this month refused to renew the exclusive license of Philweb Corp, the operator of more than 300 cafes offering e-bingo and e-games across the country. The president singled out Philweb’s owner Roberto Ongpin, one of the richest men in the southeast Asian nation, as an example of an oligarch who benefited while the poor suffered.

Domingo said Pagcor will also not renew the licenses of other e-bingo and e-games operators when they expire. (Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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