Ongpin donates 49% of Philweb to Pagcor
Embattled businessman Roberto V. Ongpin has offered to donate a 49-percent stake in gaming technology service provider Philweb Corp.—a block currently valued by the market at around P5.3 billion—to the state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) as a last-ditch attempt to save the jobs of thousands of people dependent on the nationwide e-Games network.
But as any donation is contingent on the acceptance by the other party, the offer will still have to be scrutinized by the government. Pagcor Chair Andrea Domingo Wednesday said the gaming regulator would take its cue on the proposed donation of Philweb shares from no less than Malacañang, adding that she has yet to be officially notified of the businessman’s offer.
“I have to study the matter and then discuss with the board and get feedback from the Office of the President,” Domingo said. “I am not yet in possession of any correspondence or communication regarding this matter.”
Likewise part of what was deemed as an ultimate sacrifice, Ongpin also offered to donate his remaining 4.7-percent stake in Philweb to the Ateneo de Manila University JVO Scholarship Fund (named after his late brother Jaime V. Ongpin), the businessman said in a letter addressed to Domingo and the Pagcor board dated Aug. 17.
As of Wednesday’s noontime deadline on the auction for his 53.76-percent stake in Philweb, Ongpin said he had received five bids for these 771 million shares.
“However, due to the reports in the media that under no circumstances will the Philweb license be renewed, I have decided that it is not appropriate, nor fair to the bidders for me to award my shares to any of the bidders,” Ongpin said.
Philweb’s intellectual property licensing and management agreement (IPLMA) contract expired last Aug. 10 and was no longer renewed by Pagcor.
“As you know, the bid is contingent on the renewal by Pagcor of Philweb’s license and the reports in the media that the license will not be renewed under any circumstances render the auction process moot and academic,” he said.
The donation to Pagcor was cited as “a final attempt to save the jobs of about 700 Philweb employees, plus about 5,000 others who are employed by the Pagcor operators in 286 e-Games sites.”
“Why 49 percent? This is simply to avoid Philweb being classified as a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC), which would make various restrictions applicable to GOCCs result in making Philweb’s operations untenable,” Ongpin said.
Philweb was valued by the stock market at P10.77 billion as of Wednesday’s close. This meant Ongpin’s 53.76-percent stake was worth about P5.8 billion. But before President Duterte assumed office and singled out Ongpin as an “oligarch” that he would destroy, Philweb was valued at P35 billion.
As Pagcor was both a regulator and operator—in fact operating several casinos all over the country—Ongpin said there was no reason why Pagcor could not come in as the biggest shareholder of Philweb.
“I also wish to point out that this donation to Pagcor comes with no strings attached,” Ongpin said. “Thus, Pagcor can decide whether to retain it as a permanent invest or auction all or part of it off to the highest bidder.”
Yesterday, Pagcor’s Domingo also said that the government agency was committed to the principles against “online” gambling that were set down by President Duterte.
Ongpin also reiterated that Philweb was not operating “online” gambling. He pointed out that Pagcor itself owned the e-Games casinos which were in turn operated only by Philweb as a technology service provider. This means that one can only play by going to an e-Games outlet physically, during which each patron is subjected to the stringent identify requirements to ensure that they are of proper age and that they are not employees of government entities.
On the contrary, Ongpin pointed out that online gambling meant that gambling could be done using any computer, whether in the office or at home.
Philweb has been doing business with Pagcor for the last 14 years, contributing to government coffers an average of P6 million a day. Last year, Philweb remitted a total of P2.1 billion to Pagcor.
Ongpin also pointed out that average spending of each e-Games player was about P5,000 per day. “Surely one can understand that anyone who can afford to spend P5,000 a visit to e-Games casinos cannot be classified as poor or indigent,” he said.
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