Casinos get a pass in Philippines laundering law

Casinos were given a free pass as the Philippine parliament Wednesday passed a tougher law against money-laundering but protected the government's bid to chase mega-dollars in Asia's gaming boom.

The amendments passed by the Senate and House of Representatives apply to businesses other than banks and aim to stop the funneling of proceeds from criminal activity, as well as to block terror funding.

They also raise prison terms and fines.

However, Senator Teofisto Guingona said casinos and Internet gaming were excluded at the request of the House and of the state regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

"(They) excluded casinos from coverage because (House members) warned it would deter investors. That's the number one reason. And number two, Pagcor," Guingona told reporters, referring to the regulator's abridged name.

The Senate's passage of the law came five weeks before the opening of Entertainment City, an $4 billion Manila casino complex aimed at rivalling Macau, Las Vegas and Singapore as a gaming hub.

The latest changes to a 2001 statute are now expected to be signed into law by President Benigno Aquino. Banks were already covered under the 2001 law.

The new law's passage followed a threat last year to blacklist the Philippines unless it assumes greater powers to scrutinise non-bank accounts, including casinos.

The threat was made by the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental body fighting money-laundering and terrorist financing.

Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile conceded the amendments fell short of full compliance.

"We have produced enough compliance with the requirements of the FATF, but we have to go slowly since some other countries have different circumstances," Enrile told reporters, citing potential fallout on investments and tourism.

Guingona said the amendments also excluded Internet gambling as well as proceeds from tax evasion. "These are major items, so the law would still have a big loophole," he said.

He said the FATF would meet in Paris on February 18 to review Philippine compliance with international standards.

"(We) will know whether what we have passed is enough for us to get out of the dark grey list," he said, referring to countries whose efforts to combat money-laundering fell below international standards.

Guingona said inclusion in the FATF blacklist of deliberately non-compliant states would make it difficult for millions of Filipinos working abroad to send money home and hard for Filipinos to invest abroad.

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