Zambo casino operators defy Pagcor order

Zamboanga City – This city’s special economic zone has already issued three licenses to gambling operators despite an order from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) for these firms to cease operations for lack of a Pagcor license to operate.

Christopher Arnuco, presidential assistant on trade and vice chair of the Zamboanga City Special Economic Zone (ZSEZ) and Freeport Authority, said gambling operations inside the ecozone were covered by a legal opinion from Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez.

Arnuco confirmed that the ZSEZ has already issued licenses to operators interested in online gaming and gambling inside the ecozone.

ZSEZ authorities have already issued a license to Philippine E-gaming Jurisdiction Inc. (PeJI), which maintains an office at the zone’s Technical Enterprise Building B in Barangay San Ramon here, to control e-Gaming and other related activities “conducted within and from the Zamboanga Special Economic Zone (ZSEZ) pursuant to Republic Act No. 7903.”

Directive ignored

Under the license, PeJI was empowered to receive and process all applications for and award e-Gaming licenses to business operators.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) has already ordered ZSEZ authorities to stop PeJI’s operation but the directive had been ignored.

But Arnuco insisted “we are authorized under the law to operate, even casino for that matter.”

Church and city officials expressed surprise at reports that gambling operations are ongoing at the ecozone.

Arnuco said Gonzalez also told them they were authorized to operate gambling inside the ecozone.

“What we did was to ask Secretary Gonzalez … and he issued a legal opinion saying that yes we are allowed to do so,” Arnuco said citing Gonzalez’s May 8, 2007 reply to an earlier letter by ZSEZ chair Georgina Yu.

But sources in Pagcor said the DOJ was expected to reverse its opinion after Pagcor lawyers pointed out that the word gaming in the ZSEZ authority did not cover gambling, to which Gonzalez had agreed.

Arnuco said Gonzalez told them that “contrary to Pagcor’s assertion, the Zamboanga Ecozone Authority possessed power to issue licenses to would-be locators/investors intending to operate tourism-related activities, including games, amusements and recreational sport facilities, including online/Internet gambling casinos among others, within the Zambo ecozone.”

‘Nothing is illegal’

“After all, gambling is defined as the act or practice of betting, or the act of playing a game and consciously risking money or other stakes on its outcome, which to us, is squarely within the phrase of games and amusements and recreational and sports,” Arnuco quoted Gonzalez as saying.

He said as early as last year, ZSEZ has already issued licenses to three operators.

“We have operators, we have released licenses to three companies, I just forgot the names, but these are all fully registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) so nothing is illegal,” Arnuco said.

He said the fear of some people that e-Gaming would corrupt the morals of the people of the city has no basis.

“No locals are allowed to play. It (website for the e-Gaming) could also not be accessed locally. The Philippine network is blocked from accessing this e-Gaming facility, but the rest of the world, almost all countries abroad can open the said site,” Arnuco said.