By Chloe Cabrera
Online gambling in the Philippines is going to overtake local casinos sooner than later. That?s the fearless forecast of Dennis Valdez, president of PhilWeb, the only authorized online gambling operator in the Philippines.
According to Valdez, more and more aspects of everyday life continue to shift into the digital realm, including, but not limited to, online gambling.
Even in Las Vegas, the ?entertainment capital of the world?, several casinos have been forced to downsize and close down operations because of the steady decrease in attendance figures due to the rise of online gaming sites.
Leading the way for the Philippine online gambling industry are the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation?s (Pagcor) e-Games cafes.
Owned by PhilWeb Corporation, these cafes are similar to regular Internet cafes except that they are equipped with a series of terminals where customers can log in and play casino games.
These e-Games cafes guarantee users a world-class gaming experience by combining ?the thrill and excitement of a live casino with the comfort and pleasure of great personalized service?.
Instead of having to go to a casino and move around to try different games, e-Games houses over 300 casino games including Baccarat, Blackjack, slot games, video poker, and other specialty games all in one terminal, making switching in between games quick and hassle-free.
PhilWeb currently owns 299 e-Games cafes nationwide, housing a total of around 8,000 terminals for online gambling.
Around half of these cafes are located within the Metro Manila area, while the others are distributed among various provinces. Most of them operate around the clock, and all cafes cater only to registered users aged 21 and above.
According to Valdez, the company?s Internet gambling business continues to be one of their strongest sources of income. In 2012 alone, the online gaming industry generated a total revenue of P5 billion, P1.5 billion of which was earned by PhilWeb.
Lucrative as this multi-billion peso business may be, it all began with a small batch of 11 PAGCOR e-Casino Filipino Internet Casino Stations (ICS), rolled out in 2004 by Pagcor and PhilWeb. These ICS branches slowly increased in number each year, and in February 2008, Pagcor rebranded them as Pagcor e-Games cafes.
By 2011, the total number of e-Games cafes in the country had reached 200, its branches reaching provinces as far as Cotabato, Zamboanga, Davao, and Tarlac. The year 2011 also saw the e-Games business receive a record high of P424 million for gross bets.
?It?s not so easy. Like any other new business, it?s not like you turn on a switch and then all of a sudden your revenue doubles,? Valdez said. ?There?s a build-up. Gradually customers will come in, they?ll be happy with the service, ideally, then it?ll snowball, and then you?ll hit a certain point where you?re actually profitable.?
Currently, customers can only pay and play within the e-Games branches.
e-Games does have a website, but no e-commerce takes place within the site, since Pagcor has not yet authorized any kind of system where one can log in, buy, or gamble anywhere outside of authorized cafes.
Meanwhile, a bill at the House of Representatives has been filed seeking regulation of online gambling.
But even if it does become a law, it’s not likely to discourage PhilWeb. After all, expanding their gambling operations online still remains attractive for PhilWeb, says Valdez.
However, security becomes a main issue when venturing into purely digital transactions, since it poses threats such as hacking and credit robbing to user accounts.
But with the continual shift of Filipinos into the digital age, such an idea doesn?t seem very far off.
What fueled online gaming?s popularity in the first place was the fact that it offered an alternative means of gambling–one more attractive to a larger population, more convenient than traditional methods, and in some countries, even accessible from the comfort of one?s own home.
Valdez did note that many new companies are developing payment solutions and PhilWeb need only look at which ones are going to be acceptable to Pagcor.
Like any business development initiatives, it is still hard to predict any kind of outcome, but nevertheless, making online payments possible means one less obstacle to tackle.
With the right proposition to government, perhaps this new business model will be allowed to operate sometime in the future, Valdez said.
While the convenience and accessibility of online gambling may propel it far beyond its traditional counterpart, Valdez admitted that the ?brick and mortar? model of the industry will never go away.
As with any industry, no matter what digital and technological advancements occur, there is no denying that the experience of a service or product in its original form can never be replaced.
Even if online gambling becomes the bigger industry, traditional gambling will always continue to attract a certain market. As the e-Games business continues to flourish, PhilWeb also looks at the possibility of pursuing new business ventures elsewhere.
The company currently has an ongoing business development in Myanmar. And, while they continue looking for possible solutions for online payment, Valdez ensures that, as far as the e-Games cafes go, ?there?ll always be a little bit of expansion around.?