CEZA orders immediate halt to Internet gaming firm’s operation

Online gambling company Meridien Vista Gaming Corporation (MVGC), registered by the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) has been ordered to halt its operations by CEZA Administrator and chief executive officer Jose Mari Ponce. The order follows complaints early in March 2009 by a senior board member of Nueva Vizcaya alleging that the firm was collecting bets in the province without authority.

In a letter sent to MVGC president Aitor Araña Totricabuena, Ponce ordered the company to “stop all gaming operations including testing of softwares and telecommunication infrastructures," reports the local publication GMA News.

The issue has been aggravated by apparently conflicting authority rulings. CEZA had earlier authorised MVGC to set up and establish a jai-alai fronton and other support service facilities within the Cagayan zone including telecommunications for use by the firm for its online betting activities. The company was given authority to franchise fronton stations anywhere within the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP) in Sta. Ana, Cagayan “...and in any place as may be allowed by law."

However, an opinion from the Office of Government-owned and Controlled Corporations (OGCC) overturned this permission “regarding the operation and licensing of jai-alai, which was the basis of CEZA approval of MVGCs operation."

Anti-gambling advocates also claim that the company has abused its authority by operating outside its CEZA mandate, and that there was questionable operational conduct in the way bets were collected. Several provincial officials and town mayors were reported to have issued permits to operate MVGC franchises despite concerns raised by the church and the media.

GMA News reports that MVGC also operated in the Camarines province, where raids were executed by the local police armed with search warrants. Local police revealed that members of the police force had been threatened by the gaming firm’s legal officer with a legal suit if they continued arresting MVGC’s “game facilitators."

Senior Provincial Board Member Patricio Dumlao has repeatedly asserted that MVGCs operations were illegal even if municipal permits were issued to them, and he has confirmed that he will move for the gaming firm’s de-listment as a CEZA enterprise if its illegal operations continue.

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