A gambler who crossed the wrong people in the Philippines found himself in what could have been a very unpleasant situation. He borrowed from loan sharks and, when he couldn’t pay them back, they kidnapped him and held him in a room at the Okada Manila casino before he finally found a little luck.
The unidentified man reportedly owed around PHP500,000 (US$9,090) and wasn’t able to pay up. Five people, all Chinese nationals, then kidnapped him and locked him temporarily in the hotel room, according to Philippine media outlet Inquirer.
Their plan apparently included taking him elsewhere, for reasons the authorities are still trying to ascertain. As the five criminals led him out the door of the casino, however, he was able to signal a guard, who came to his rescue.
Too Close For Comfort
Outside the casino, a car was waiting for the group. From there, the destination is unknown, but it’s likely the kidnappers were either going to hold the gambler for ransom or, possibly, execute him.
The unidentified gambler might be Chinese, but he is almost certainly a foreign national and not a local. This could be deduced from comments made by police chief Major General Edgar Allan Okubo, who said that crimes like these won’t be tolerated, “regardless of the nationality of both the victim and the perpetrators.”
Okubo added that the police force “will work diligently to respond in such similar reports of illegal detention to be able to rescue other possible victims among foreign nationals.”
Law enforcement officials could likely see an increase in criminal activity before getting things under control. Gambling revenue in the country is on the rise and the relaxation of COVID-19-induced travel restrictions means more international traffic throughout Asia.
The casino segment in the Philippines continued to grow in the fourth quarter of last year, generating around PHP56.01 billion (US$1.02 billion) in gross gaming revenue (GGR). This beat the previous quarter by 13.5 % and marks a 96.2% jump from a year earlier.
In addition, the overall handle of the segment reached almost PHP184.00 billion (US$3.34 billion). This was 90.6% greater than the same period in 2021.
China has been softening its anti-international travel stance recently, which is also leading to an increase in gambling in the Philippines. As the country continues to force Macau to shift away from gaming, Chinese gamblers have to look elsewhere.
This includes the Philippines, although a major influx of Chinese-led gambling isn’t expected by industry analysts. However, it also has the potential to open the doors for gambling-related crime.
Chinese Mafias Continue To Be A Problem
Throughout Asia, Chinese-led criminal organizations have been working to control all illegal activity. They run many of the illegal gaming facilities in Cambodia, for example, and have been notorious for kidnapping and human trafficking.
This has also been seen in the Philippines, mostly though the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) segment. There was an increase in POGO-linked kidnappings last year, despite an overall drop in the number of reported cases.
There were 31 kidnappings during the first nine months of 2022 in the Philippines, compared to 36 in the same period the year before. Of these, 17 were POGO-related, five more than in 2021.
Those cases included 19 Chinese victims, as well as others from Vietnam and Taiwan. However, in almost all of the scenarios, Chinese criminal gangs were behind the activity.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the Philippines’ gaming regulator and state-run casino operator, has argued that none of the licensed POGOs had anything to do with the crimes. Instead, the operators already lost their licenses or voluntarily gave them up.
That distinction seems to be irrelevant to lawmakers. There’s a push to eliminate the entire POGO industry because of the criminal element, but this will do little to keep the gangs out of the licensed casinos.
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