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Loving games of chance

A friend recalls standing before the counter of a drugstore in a province south of Manila when he was approached by a woman accompanied by her young son. “Sir,” said the woman in Filipino, “I need to buy medicines for my sick husband but I don’t have enough with me. Could you please help me meet the full amount?”

The man, feeling compassion for the woman who appeared genuinely distressed, dug into his pocket and fished out a P100 bill. Apparently, it was more than the woman expected, and after flashing a smile of gratitude at my friend, she turned to her son and instructed him: “Here, take P20 and buy me a lotto ticket.”

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Disheartened and speechless, my friend just walked away with his medicine purchase. But he still couldn’t quite believe what he had just witnessed. “If people still doubt our fondness for gambling, then I should tell you that this story is more common than you think,” he declared.

No wonder then that among the top contributors to the government treasury are two government entities that oversee legalized gambling in this country: Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.), which manages its own casinos as well as grants franchises to private casino operators, and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), which organizes and oversees different forms of lotteries, raising money for a variety of charitable causes, particularly the health needs of indigents, and in response to disasters.

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But not even the PCSO is immune from the effects of disasters, particularly last year when a string of natural and human calamities—starting with the Zamboanga standoff and culminating with Supertyphoon “Yolanda”—severely cut into the agency’s income.

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“We were hard-pressed to meet our targets,” admits PCSO Chair Margie Juico, “especially since we lost so many outlets in Leyte, Samar, and the rest of the area affected by Yolanda.” To this day, she adds, PCSO must bear the income it had to forego with the populace in the affected areas still unable to take part in the lotto, the small-town lottery, sweepstakes, or its newest variation, the “BingoMilyonaryo.”

“The BingoMilyonaryo,” says Juico, “was adopted and put into operation because we needed to think of other ways to make up for our lost income.”

The PCSO describes “BingoMilyonaryo” as part of its “revenue-generating strategies.” For only P5 per combination, the buyer stands to win any (or all) of five different number combinations, including the jackpot prize.

What makes the “BingoMilyonaryo” even more exciting and reassuring is that placing one’s bet can be made through a “new and convenient” method, an Android application by LottoCell using G-Cash. Working through roving agents and outlets like sari-sari stores, the PCSO offers instantaneous confirmation of a win through the mere touch of a cell phone. Players can also play through their own mobile devices on WiFi or 3G Internet.

In this way, the possibility of cheating or manipulation is minimized, since the “BingoMilyonaryo” draw is carried out at the PCSO main office, with results almost instantaneously conveyed.

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For now “BingoMilyonaryo” is available only in a limited number of provinces, but already, it has been meeting a storm of criticism from local governments and even from PCSO agents engaged in another form of government-approved gambling—the Small Town Lottery or STL.

Conceived to compete with the (still) popular jueteng, an illegal numbers game, the STL operates through a network of local provincial operators who in turn field their own armies of agents. Indeed, admits Juico, many of its STL operators are in fact former jueteng lords with their own ready-made networks of kubrador or collectors. The main difference, it seems, is that, unlike jueteng, STL operates aboveground, with the government taking its rightful share of income and taxes, and eradicating the need for under-the-table arrangements with local police and politicians.

“But many operators and even local governments refuse to allow the ‘BingoMilyonaryo’ into their areas,” observes Juico. In talks with STL operators, she says, she has pointed out the huge discrepancy in income between the STL and the “BingoMilyonaryo,” with “BM” taking in just P5.8 million last year while the STL earned P188.26 million in the same period.

It may still be very early days for the “BingoMilyonaryo,” but I’m guessing the STL operators are aware of how computerization could very easily—and quickly—gain acceptance among Filipinos. Not for nothing is the Philippines called the texting and social media capital of the world.

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Filipinos may be inveterate gamblers, willing to test their luck in any number of ways, clinging to the hope that springs eternal that fortune may just be a winning ticket away.

That through the PCSO this penchant for games of chance is channeled into a huge charitable operation is simply icing on the cake. Although, these days, with pork barrel money that legislators used to reserve for charity cases effectively blocked, Juico says the number of cases referred to the PCSO has grown exponentially.

One other challenge, says Juico, is to widen the reach of the PCSO, not just to make the possible windfalls accessible to more Filipinos, but also to make its charitable operations cover an even wider area. Thus, heeding P-Noy’s appeal to reach even more Filipinos, the PCSO recently added five more branches in the provinces of Surigao del Norte, Benguet, La Union, Negros Oriental and Mountain Province.

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TAGS: BingoMilyonaryo, casinos, Jueteng, Margie juico, Pagcor, PCSO, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, private casino operators, STL operators
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