Philippines to Use Offshore Gaming Tax Revenue to Fund Universal Health Care

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has signed legislation that will greatly revamp where tax revenue generated by offshore gaming is directed.

Philippines POGO Duterte China
Philippines POGO Duterte China
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte meets with the press at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila last month. The leader this week overhauled how tax receipts from online gaming are used. (Image: AP)

The president yesterday signed Republic Act 11590, which modifies the tax structure levied on Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs). The effective five percent tax rate on gross gaming revenue (GGR) remains, but where those funds are allocated has been amended.

Effective immediately, 60 percent of POGO tax money remunerated to the government will be set aside for the country’s Universal Health Care program. Signed in February of 2019 by Duterte, the Universal Health Care Bill sets the foundation to guarantee that every Filipino has “equitable access to quality and affordable health care goods and services” regardless of their financial well-being.

Another 20 percent of the POGO tax haul will be used to update and improve medical facilities throughout the nation. The remaining 20 percent will be set aside for “sustainable development goals.”

The Philippines Department of Finance reports that POGO tax revenue in 2019 totaled PHP6.42 billion (US$128 million).

Tax Guarantees

The POGO regulatory overhaul changes how such gaming taxes are used. It also makes sure all foreign workers employed in the internet casino industry are paying their fair share of taxes.

The legislation signed this week by Duterte mandates that workers share 25 percent of their personal income with the government. The tax levy applies only to those making PHP600,000 (US$11,923) or more in a 12-month period. Employees earning less than the nearly $12,000 a year are required to submit a PHP12,500 (US$250) monthly tax payment.

This is a part of our effort to tightly regulate all kinds of gambling,” said Duterte spokesperson Harry Roque.

All people employed by a POGO must be registered with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), and obtain a tax identification number from the Philippines Bureau of Internal Revenue. POGOs that employ people who don’t adhere to the tax requirements face steep penalties.

“All foreign employees of offshore gaming licensees and their service providers, regardless of nature of employment, shall have a tax identification number. All offshore gaming licensees and service providers that employ or engage a foreign national without the foregoing shall be liable for a fine of twenty thousand pesos for every foreign national without such tax identification number and, in proper instances, revocation of their primary and other licenses obtained from government agencies,” Republic Act 11590 states.

Controversial Business

Duterte has largely opposed gambling during his presidential tenure, though he recently softened that stance to allow casinos on Boracay Island, COVID-19 and greatly reduced tax revenue caused the president’s change of heart.

POGOs cater to gamblers throughout Asia, but heavily market to Chinese high rollers. With gambling illegal in China, President Xi Jinping has repeatedly asked Duterte to end POGO operations.

Duterte has refused, in a rare defiance of his cozy relationship with Beijing. However, the number of POGOs has been reduced.

As of August 6, 2021, PAGCOR says there are 36 POGO licensees that are authorized to operate online casino games for gamblers located outside of the Philippines. That is down from 130 licensed iGaming firms just a couple of years back.

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