Philippine Gaming Regulator Probes Alleged Money-Laundering

Updated on
  • Up to $100 million of suspicious funds remitted to casinos
  • SEC says nation at risk of returning to dirty money watch list

The Philippines is training its sights on the gaming sector in a renewed push to curb the transmission of illicit funds.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation has started investigating news reports that as much as $100 million of suspicious funds were remitted to three casinos’ bank accounts, according to a statement Wednesday. The government agency expects the casinos, which it didn’t name, to submit their comments on the allegation this week.

The gaming regulator’s comments come a day after Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Teresita Herbosa warned the country risks returning to the list of nations that aren’t doing enough to fight money laundering if laws aren’t strengthened to include sectors like casinos among institutions required to report suspicious transactions. If that happens, Philippine transactions including overseas remittances that amounted to more than $25 billion last year would be subject to increased scrutiny.

“We already have warnings” from the Financial Action Task Force, Herbosa told reporters on Tuesday. “If the reports coming out were true, it really shows the consequences. I don’t think they have any reason now to oppose the bill that casinos should be covered.”

Art Collection

Herbosa is a member of the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Council, which unsuccessfully lobbied lawmakers to include casinos in a 2012 amendment that added terrorism as a predicate crime for laundering.

Casinos must stop cash transactions to prevent laundering or at least impose a cap, Herbosa said. Apart from gaming, the property sector and art collection should also be included on the list of covered institutions on money laundering, Senator Serge Osmena said in a phone interview Wednesday. The Philippine law is among the “weakest in the world,” Osmena said.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Feb. 29 that authorities are investigating an estimated $100 million that came in through the banking system, transferred to at least three casinos and moved out to overseas accounts in a matter of days.

Junket Operation

The funds may have entered the Philippine financial system through a branch of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., converted to pesos and deposited in an account of a Chinese-Filipino businessman who runs a junket operation, according to the Inquirer, which didn’t name the businessman. The newspaper cited an unnamed Rizal Bank official saying the lender immediately alerted the Anti-Money Laundering Council. 

The funds were used to buy casino chips or pay for losses at venues including Bloomberry Resorts Corp.’s Solaire Resort & Casino and Melco Crown Philippines Resort Corp.’s City of Dreams Manila, according to the newspaper report. There was no suggestion in the report that the banks or casinos named were in any way complicit with any improper movement of funds.

Rizal Bank President Lorenzo Tan didn’t reply to calls and text messages seeking comment. Leo Venezuela, Bloomberry Resorts’ investor relations director, and City of Dreams Manila Vice President Charisse Chuidian also didn’t reply to calls and phone messages.

Philippine National Bank and BDO Unibank Inc. were also mentioned in the Inquirer report. Reynaldo Maclang, president of Philippine National Bank, said he cannot comment. Nestor Tan, president of BDO, didn’t reply to calls and mobile-phone messages.

— With assistance by Andreo Calonzo, Cecilia Yap, and Norman P Aquino

(Updates with lawmaker's comment in sixth paragraph.)
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