Pushing gambling

by Dr. Benito Teehankee

Managing for Society

The Manila Times

June 3, 2013

I always get inspired when I hear President Benigno Aquino 3rd or his able agency heads talk about his advocacy for good governance. This direction has given much hope to our country as it moves forward to being the nation it has always deserved to be.

But I must say that the government’s decision to push gambling in a major way through the Entertainment City of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) has me worried. It is not reassuring that De La Salle University is the closest major school to the planned 100-plus hectare gambling complex near Manila Bay. On the occasion of the opening of Solaire, Inquirer.net’s March 16 article declared: “President Benigno Aquino 3rd opened a giant $1.2 billion casino on Saturday to kick off the Philippines’ high-stakes bid to join the likes of Macau and Las Vegas in an elite group of gaming destinations.” Thanks to P-Noy, I feel like a boss and as a tax-paying “part owner” of Pagcor, I’d like to say a thing, or two about this ambitious goal to make us the gambling mecca hereabouts.

The media can hardly contain its excitement about this development, citing the impressive revenue and tourist numbers being projected by the government. Well, maybe media needs to look at other aspects, too, especially the social cost of mainstreaming gambling in such a high-profile way.

Maybe things have changed, but from what I know, “high rollers” eventually get their choice of women, whether local, or flown in from abroad, among other incentives. With such a massive rollout of gambling, can the expansion of institutionalized prostitution be too far behind? Gambling has destroyed many families locally, as lifetime savings and funds for children’s education have been frittered away in moments of foolish confidence about making “sure bets.” Are we really willing to expose more families to such risks? Singapore bans ATM machines in casinos and charges steep fees for those who want to play. The message is clear: “This isn’t for everyone.” Shouldn’t we do the same?

Should I even mention money laundering?

I’m not suggesting that we ban gambling. It’s entertaining for tourists and some people and if they can afford it, why not? But let’s not make it too visible and accessible to ordinary folks, especially to the young, since this will send a strong cultural signal that can influence generations to come.

With billions of dollars at stake—and we know how money talks in our country—who can have enough sense and a voice loud enough to promote temperance given the gambling extravaganza unfolding in Manila? Mothers, I think. One mother has already weighed in.

Rappler.com reported that Felicidad Sy, wife of tycoon Henry Sy, was not keen on the family business being involved in gambling. This is the same lady who reputedly steered the SM cinemas away from R-rated sexy movies almost a decade ago. I suspect there are more mothers out there who can join their voices to petition our government for greater vigilance about gambling.

The former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino herself was a mother, too, and quite a son she produced. But as I looked at the picture of P-Noy beside Solaire executives in the Inqurer.net article above, I honestly had difficulty picturing Cory warming up to this idea of Manila as the next Las Vegas. One of her legacy laws as President, which I require all my students to read, was the Family Code promulgated in 1987. It states that a key duty of parents with respect to their children is “to keep them in their company, to support, educate and instruct them by right precept and good example, and to provide for their upbringing in keeping with their means.” Let’s hope that our government and business leaders firmly hold the line in defense of the family and our community values as they raise the needed revenues for our country’s development.