Pagcor, QC lock horns over casino plan
The Philippines’ gaming regulator and the political leadership of Quezon City are headed for a legal dispute to determine the fate of the P40-billion Solaire resort hotel and casino that is set to be built in a growing commercial district of the the country’s largest city.
In a press statement, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. said it was “seriously contemplating” going to court to seek an injunction against a proposed Quezon City ordinance that would bar local residents from entering the casino to be built by ports and gaming tycoon Enrique Razon Jr.
“Not taking this next important step is tantamount to the dereliction of its duties as gaming regulator,” Pagcor said in justifying its upcoming legal challenge against the rule that was floated recently by the city’s Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte.
Last week, Belmonte said that while she understood the economic benefits that the hotel and gaming complex would bring to the city, she and the city’s councilors still wanted to regulate the firm’s gaming activities.
Among the possible restrictions that the ordinance would mandate is either an outright ban on Quezon City residents from entering Solaire’s proposed casino or the imposition of a high entrance fee to deter would-be gamblers.
The Quezon City vice mayor also said earlier that she welcomed Pagcor’s legal challenge so that the courts would finally rule on who has primacy over the issue of regulating the new casino.
Pagcor stressed, however, that the job of regulating casino operations rested solely with it by virtue of Presidential Decree 1869 and Republic Act No. 9487, identifying it as the national government agency mandated to regulate all games of chance in the country.
“We also would like to reiterate that with regard to regulation of gaming in local government units, Presidential Decree 771 ‘revokes the authority of LGUs to issue license permit or any form of franchise to operate, maintain and establish forms of gambling’,” Pagcor said.
The gaming regulator also said that, in a Memorandum from the Office of the President dated April 17, 1996, then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres directed all LGUs and other concerned agencies that “only the national government has the power to issue licenses or permits for the operation of gambling since the power of (LGUs) to regulate gambling through the grant of franchise, license or permit was withdrawn by PD 771 as early as 1975.”
Relative to “abuses” of local governments in making ordinances beyond their authority, the Department of Justice also issued Opinion No. 087 in 2012, stating that the “Department of Interior and Local Government has been swamped with problems arising from the implementation of ordinances, which contain provisions that clearly violate existing national laws.”
One of the remedies suggested by the DOJ opinion was the declaration of nullity of the ordinance, and part of such proceeding is the issuance of a court injunction while the case is pending, the gaming regulator said.
“Given the provisions of the law, it is clear that Quezon City’s proposed gaming regulatory ordinance is a violation of national law,” Pagcor said. “With the filing of [the injunction], we are not only upholding the rule of law but also ensuring that people’s welfare are protected and local governments will not be given a chance to abuse their authority.”
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