Philippines ban on online gambling ?

The Philippines, long perceived as an enlightened haven for online gambling and home to PAGCOR, the First Cagayuan licencing jurisdiction and a freeport, is the unlikely location for the latest attempt to ban Internet gambling.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported this week that Narciso Santiago of the minority Alliance for Rural Concerns party has proposed that gambling on the Internet be made illegal. Santiago noted in his proposed legislation that there are no existing regulations on Internet gambling.

Santiago's bill proposes to make it illegal for people running a gambling operation to use the Internet "or any other interactive computer service to place, receive, or otherwise make a bet or wager; or send, receive, or invite information that may assist in the placing of a bet or wager."

Santiago rolled out the old and unsubstantiated claims that gambling is dangerous to the young and addicted, and can be used for money laundering to justify his proposal.

That said, his bill exempts certain operations, such as any lawful bet or wager that is placed, received or made wholly for the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office lotto, if these operations are authorised, licensed or regulated.

The exception also applies if the bet is placed on an interactive computer service that uses a private network, and the person making the wager is physically in a place open to the general public - Internet cafes, for example.

The prohibition would also not apply to bets placed on live horse races if such wagers are authorised, licensed or regulated by applicable laws, as well as to lawful bets made on fantasy sports league games.

In fact there are almost as many exemptions as there are prohibitions!

Those found violating the proposed law would be fined the equivalent of the amount received as bets, or P200 000, or imprisoned for a maximum of four years, or both.

Santiago is no stranger to controversy, and is the scion of a political family in which his mother Miriam Santiago is a Philippine senator. In 2007 she administered the oath of office to her son Narciso in defiance of his earlier expulsion by the Alliance of Rural Concerns (ARC), the reasons for which are not clear. Late last year, his proposal to ban all food products that contain the artificial sweetener aspartame was described by one ABS-CBN news commentator as "another brain-fart bill" with the added comment: "Congress should strive not to waste people's tax money on good-for-nothing bills."

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