PhilWeb, Leisure & Resorts Jump as Duterte Backtracks on Gaming

  • Duterte says he might allow online games with some conditions
  • Stocks have slumped on government’s anti-gambling stance

PhilWeb Corp. and Leisure & Resorts World Corp. soared in Manila trading after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he might allow online gambling to resume with some conditions.

Shares of PhilWeb, which used to supply software to government-licensed Internet gambling cafes, jumped by the 50 percent daily limit to 8.10 pesos at the close of trading, the most since August 1999. Leisure & Resorts, the country’s largest operator of electronic bingo games, also surged 50 percent. The companies said in separate statements to the stock exchange they were unaware of the reason for the surge in their shares.

Philippine gaming shares have plummeted since the start of July, after Duterte ordered a stop to online gaming at his first cabinet meeting. The nation’s gaming agency said on Aug. 19 it won’t issue new permits or renew licenses for both electronic bingo and games. PhilWeb slumped as much as 49 percent on that day and Leisure & Resorts plunged the most in almost eight years. Duterte said Wednesday he might reconsider the ban if operators pay “proper” taxes and electronic casinos are located away from schools and churches.

“There’s hope for online gaming stocks after Duterte’s comments,” said Harry Liu, president of Summit Securities Inc. in Manila. “All these government policies are already there, gaming companies just have to follow them. If they play it straight and ensure there’s no hanky-panky, they can stay out of trouble.”

Duterte, who was elected president in May and took office June 30, said earlier this month he planned to “destroy the oligarchs that are embedded in government.” Former PhilWeb Chairman Roberto Ongpin, singled out by Duterte in his campaign to end the influence of big businesses on the government, had offered to donate his stake in the company to the state. 

“We have to go back and clarify” with the President, Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corp. Chief Executive Officer Andrea Domingo said in an interview on Thursday. “We are ready with a more reasonable, more stringent and a more socially responsible set of requirements for e-Games and e-Bingos.”

Domingo said 169 out of 350 bingo stations have violated the requirement that the site must be at a 200 meter radius from a school and church. The regulator may also extend this to 500 meters and a site must not stand alone but must be in three-star hotels, malls or arcades, she said. Operators must also be corporations and not single proprietorships, she added.

PhilWeb may seek a permit from the gaming agency to operate electronic casinos again, President Dennis Valdes said on Wednesday, reacting to Duterte’s comment.

Leisure & Resorts controls 35 percent of the Philippines’ bingo market, with 8,585 e-bingo machines installed across the archipelago as well as more than 100 bingo halls. Online bingo is the most popular form of electronic gambling in the country, making up three-quarters of Internet gaming revenue in the first half, data from the gaming agency show.

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