Dozens of scantily dressed Filipina croupiers stand in booths shuffling cards in front of a webcam, their faces softly illuminated by professional lighting.
This is what a typical POGO — or a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator — looks like, according to descriptions provided to CNN by several gaming experts. Some are based in abandoned malls, while others are found in converted parking lots or cheap rented offices, they say.
In the past three years, the Philippines has emerged as a major hub for online gaming, according to Filipino officials, attracting more than 100,000 Chinese nationals who work in virtual casinos catering to players back in China where gambling is illegal.
Managing the cross-border flow of money is a challenge. China limits the amount of money any individual can move out of the country to $50,000 per year. And since it doesn’t allow its citizens to gamble online, they are also not allowed to send money abroad for this purpose.
“It is usually wired electronically, using services like Alipay or WeChat Pay, and disguised as a simple retail purchase,” said consultant Ben Lee. “Chinese gamblers are also increasingly using crypto currencies like Bitcoin to avoid detection.”
The increase in POGOs has also led to a rise in criminality, according to Philippine officials.
“In their free time, their Chinese employees often gamble at the casinos and end up in debt,” explained Elmer Cereno, a spokesman for the Philippine National Police-Anti Kidnapping Group. “They are then approached by loan sharks who offer to lend them money.”
When they fail to pay it back, the loan sharks kidnap them and try to get ransom from their relatives back home, he said.