Alvarez files bill to give Congress franchise powers over gambling
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has filed his version of a priority bill that would make the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) a “purely regulatory” agency and turn over licensing powers to Congress.
House Bill No. 6514, which Alvarez coauthored with Deputy Majority Leader Juan Pablo Bondoc, would consolidate all regulatory functions in the gaming industry into the agency that would be renamed the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Authority (Paga).
During the opening of the 17th Congress’ second session on July 24, Alvarez called on lawmakers to include the reorganization of Pagcor in the chamber’s priority agenda.
“An entity that has this power runs the risk of dealing itself a favorable hand while undercutting others,” he said in a speech then.
The House games and amusement committee is scheduled to begin hearings on the measure on Monday (Nov. 27).
The bill’s explanatory note stated that as both an operator and regulator of casinos, the current Pagcor is hounded by “a lingering doubt as to its ability to effectively enforce its regulatory powers.”
Under the bill, all gaming operations would have to secure a legislative franchise from Congress, just like public utilities.
Pagcor’s existing licensees would be given a one-year period to secure a legislative franchise so their operations would not become illegal.
Franchisees would subject to a 5-percent franchise tax on aggregate gross earnings.
The full amount of tax collections would fund the charitable and social obligations of Pagcor and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
Paga would take over the regulatory functions currently spread out among PCSO, Games and Amusement Board (Gab), Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza), Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco), Freeport Area of Bataan, and other special economic zones.
This would turn PCSO into a “purely charitable institution and a recipient of the share of funds from sweepstakes operations conducted by private operators.”
Gab, which is mandated to supervise professional sports and combat illegal gambling, would be abolished under the bill with Paga absorbing its functions.
Paga’s purpose would be to collect franchise fees from the holders of legislative franchises, allow only franchisees to conduct gaming operations, and control the potential harm to minors and vulnerable persons.
It would also be mandated to ensure that only persons “who are suitable and free from criminal influence or exploitation” would be involved in the management and operation of gaming activities.
Paga would be tasked under the bill with policy matters, supervision of all gaming and gambling operations including the handling of money, and adjudication of disputes between operators and patrons.
Inspectors would be appointed to monitor the operations of legislative franchisees, detect offenses, inspect equipment, and receive complaints from patrons.
Provisions in Alvarez and Bondoc’s bill were substantially the same as in House Bill No. 6111, filed in August by 1-Pacman Party-list Reps. Enrico Pineda and Michael Romero after Alvarez issued his call.
Alvarez also made good on another pledge to seek through House Bill No. 6593 the creation of the Philippine National Railway Authority to regulate the country’s train systems and grant Congress franchise powers over railway operators. The Speaker had also filed House Bill No. 6259 to require mining operators to secure legislative franchises too.
Opposition lawmaker Akbayan Rep. Tomasito Villarin said in July that the “legislative agenda of the Speaker reeks of protecting vested interests and consolidating power over grant of franchises to Congress.” /atm
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