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Duterte orders halt on new casinos to prevent oversupply

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered a halt on the entry and creation of new casinos to prevent an oversupply in one of Asia's fastest-growing gambling markets, the country's gaming regulator said.

The no nonsense Philippine leader ordered a moratorium on Jan. 11 “because he did not want the industry to be crowded,” Andrea Domingo, chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), said in a text message on Thursday.

Pagcor will no longer process applications for gaming licenses following the ban, Domingo said. Four applications for licenses, mostly by local businessmen, are pending with the gaming regulator.

Duterte's spokesperson, lawyer Harry Roque, confirmed the development.

"Wala po akong additional na detalye other than nag desisyon na ang Presidente na tama na muna ang mga casinos kasi hindi pa naman po fully realized ang potential ng Entertainment City," Roque said in a press briefing in Sagñay, Camarines Sur.

"Nagpapasok po tayo ng mga dambahulang kompanya dyan po sa Entertainment City. Siguro nais na muna makita ng Presidente kung papaano ang magiging operasyon niyan, kung kailangan ba magpatayo ng bago. Pero dahil ngayon po, dambuhala ang mga casino na 'yan ay mag moratorium na muna sa mga bagong dambuhalang mga casinos," he added.

The Philippines, which has one of Asia’s most freewheeling gambling industries, recorded P88 billion ($1.71 billion) in gross gaming revenues in the first half of 2017, up 12 percent from a year ago, Pagcor data showed.

Growth was driven by warmer ties with China and increasing foreign visitors.

With gambling banned in many Asian countries, the Philippines has cashed in on growth of the sector, which has created tens of thousands of jobs and helps bring tourists to its malls, beaches and hotels.

Pagcor operates dozens of casinos in the Philippines, with 526 tables and 10,461 machines and there are nine huge private casino complexes offering 1,236 gaming tables and 7,767 electronic gaming machines, according to the latest available data.  —Reuters with Virgil Lopez/RSJ, GMA News