Pagcor confirms P160-M card sting
Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) lost some P160 million to three members of a foreign gambling syndicate who were able to leave the country despite a hold departure order on them, officials of the state-gaming agency confirmed on Monday.
At a hearing of the House committee on games and amusement, Dasmariñas City Rep. Elpidio Barzaga and Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay lost their cool after Jay Santiago, Pagcor assistant vice president for corporate legal affairs, confirmed the escape of Lu Chu Ben alias Ben Lui and two of his companions. Lu is said to be from Singapore.
Santiago played before members of the committee, chaired by Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing, the CCTV footage showing the modus operandi of Lu and cohorts who were playing baccarat in April. The fraud was discovered only on May 8.
The footage showed one of the suspects caught with a small camera tucked under his sleeve that recorded the sequence of cards as these were being cut and dealt. The recording would then be dictated to another player through a phone call.
Jorge Sarmiento, Pagcor president and chief operating officer, said the state-gaming firm red-flagged the group after Pagcor got a tip and arrested the members of the syndicate.
Sarmiento placed the money lost to the scam, pulled off in April, at P121.078 million for the Airport Casino; P17 million for the Heritage Hotel Casino and P19 million for the Hyatt Hotel Casino.
Sarmiento said Pagcor immediately issued a circular to all casino branches informing them of the group and the fraud, and asking them to be more vigilant on the manner of cutting playing cards.
Bail after downgrade
Santiago said all suspects were charged with syndicated estafa in the Parañaque Regional Trial Court, but the case was later downgraded to simple estafa by the Department of Justice (DOJ), allowing the suspects to post bail and later leave the country.
Bagatsing was incensed that Pagcor lost a big sum of money to foreign gamblers when it had all the facilities and resources to prevent cheating.
He cited tabloid reports alleging that the scam was perpetrated in connivance with Pagcor officials and employees and that the firm lost P400 million.
Bagatsing also said that the money lost would be enough to build many school buildings.
Sarmiento assured lawmakers attending the hearing that some Pagcor employees had been placed under investigation in connection with the scam.
Magsaysay said it was “funny” that Pagcor did not even challenge the DOJ decision downgrading the case.
“You appear to be cool despite being duped. If I were you, I would lose sleep. Your action is very revealing as far as I’m concerned. I think the filing of the case against the syndicate members was too late,” Magsaysay said.
Sarmiento later noted that Pagcor was perhaps the first in the gaming industry to arrest and file charges against members of a gambling syndicate.
“In Macau, Las Vegas and other parts of the United States, no syndicate member has been arrested. [Casinos ] investigated suspects but released them later because the [casinos] cannot bodily search them,” he said.
In a statement, Santiago said Pagcor had done its part to apprehend, file charges and prevent the escape of the suspects.
“The present Pagcor management tightened security and surveillance. That was why we were able to apprehend members of the syndicate,” the Pagcor chief legal counsel said.
Santiago said Pagcor filed “the necessary charges to ensure no bail but the fiscal [prosecutor] thought the case should be downgraded.”
He added that the gaming firm had also sought a hold departure order and alarm from the Interpol, “but for some reason, they (suspects) were able to slip out of the country.”
The hearing gave former Pagcor chair Efraim Genuino the opening to hit back anew at his accusers.
After being sued for plunder and other alleged criminal offenses by the current Pagcor board, Genuino said his successor, Cristino Naguiat Jr., should explain how the gaming firm lost a huge amount to members of a “known criminal syndicate” preying on casino establishments.
“Anybody who is familiar with casino operations in any part of the world knows that the odds in the games played in casinos are always stacked in favor of the (operator),” Genuino said in a statement sent to the Inquirer by his lawyer Ferdinand Topacio.
“The loss of such a huge amount is the people’s loss as money from Pagcor is used to fund social projects,” he added.
Genuino said the illicit operation could not have happened without the connivance of some corrupt Pagcor officials.
“The fundamental question (now) is this: Who are the real criminals in Pagcor? The previous officers, or the present ones?” he asked.
“Who in the present Pagcor leadership conspired with him (Lu) to defraud the casinos of such amount of money?”
Genuino said games played in casinos were “fine-tuned through decades of usage” in favor of their operators.
These were the same rules applied in Pagcor casinos under his watch, he added. With a report from Marlon Ramos
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