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China's crackdown on Philippines casinos  hits property firms

Manila

CHINA has urged the Philippines to stop its casinos from hiring Chinese citizens as part of a wider crackdown on cross-border gambling and illegal funds flow, a move seen to hurt the South-east Asian nation's property companies.

Megaworld Corp led decliners in the property sector after a statement on the Chinese embassy website in the Philippines said overseas gambling by Chinese is illegal, as is opening casinos overseas to attract Chinese citizens.

A large number of Chinese citizens have been "illegally recruited and hired" in the Philippines, while "hundreds of millions of Chinese yuan" have illegally flowed to the Philippines, the statement said.

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The remarks are the strongest warning from China against the Philippines' flourishing casino sector that's targeting and also employing tens of thousands of its citizens since President Rodrigo Duterte awarded more gaming licences under his term.

More than 50 Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators - also known as Pogos - have received licences since 2016, and the industry that caters mainly to overseas Chinese punters employs about 138,000 mostly Chinese workers.

Oriental Group, one of the operators licensed by the Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corp, is building online gaming hubs in Cavite City in the south and in Clark City in the north.

Megaworld shares fell 5.9 per cent, the most since June 2017. Shares of Belle Corp and SM Prime Holdings dropped 0.9 per cent and 0.8 per cent, respectively. The Philippine property index erased gains from earlier in the day, ending down 0.5 per cent.

"Obviously, the biggest impact will fall on the property sector, especially the big names with a significant portion of their net income derived from POGO leasing," said Rens Cruz, an analyst at Regina Capital in Manila. BLOOMBERG