It’s hard to tell what is going on in the mind of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Since taking office on July 1, 2016, Duterte has flip-flopped back and forth over the issue of casino gambling and online gambling. After going on a rampage and threatening to shut down all internet gambling sites by not allowing for the renewal of existing gaming licenses, he did an abrupt about face and said he didn’t care if Philippine citizens wasted their lives gambling online. He set exorbitant fees for online gambling licenses that were totally unrealistic and if implemented, will cripple the online gambling industry in the Philippines.
But his concern for the welfare of Filipinos rings hollow now that he has struck a deal with China to boost casino tourism between the two Asian nations. The agreement specifically addresses a 2002 memorandum of understanding (MOU) that was signed by both countries. The goal of the MOU is to boost tourist traffic and to encourage investment in tourist infrastructure between both countries.
Starting on November 1, 2016, twice weekly charter flights will begin between Guangzhou, China and Laoag, Philippines. Four hundred Chinese tourists per week will stay at the Fort Ilocandia and Resort Casino in Laoag. And it’s no coincidence that the Jimei Group initiated the charter service. They are a casino junket operator based in Macau that also just happens to operate the Fort Ilocandia and Resort Casino.
So, the Philippines are now promoting casino gambling as a draw for Chinese tourists. While, just recently, China detained 18 representatives of Australian casino operator Crown Resorts for promoting casino gambling to Chinese VIP’s. This came after China issued explicit warnings last year to Crown and other casino operators to cease their marketing efforts in China as part of their crackdown targeting “foreign casino activities.”
During Duterte’s state meeting with China, he not only signed the MOU, but also praised the new relationship with China and announced an economic and military separation from the U.S.
Something just doesn’t smell write with this whole deal, including the denunciation of America’s partnership with the Philippines. But, for Duterte, it seems to be ok to take gambling money from his new best friend, China. Who is playing who? My bet – China is pulling the puppet strings to gain more presence and influence in the South China Sea region while pushing the U.S. aside.