COVID creates a boom in Philippine casino kidnappings

Jon Pill
Posted on: January 14, 2021 06:54 PST

Cases of kidnappings relating to Philippines Offshore Gaming Operators rose significantly in 2020.

POGOs have always been intermittently involved in kidnappings, shakedowns, and extortion. But since COVID started tightening everyone's purse strings, the intensity seems to have increased. It seems to have made kidnappers greedier and the victims more likely to fall for the bait.

In 2019, there were nine incidents. In 2020, there were seventeen incidents with twenty-three victims. These led to thirty-three arrests and two deaths.

The scams are reminiscent of some hospitality industry human trafficking scams in the U.S.

Police Major Ronaldo Lumactod Jr gave a rundown of a typical shakedown. “[The workers] were hired to work for a POGO but there was deceit. They were not given the jobs as casino dealers as promised. As the victims thought they were deceived, they resisted. They were then ordered to pay a ransom through their families in China.”

In a particularly high profile case from last year, two Chinese kidnappers were killed by the police. But not before they punched a hole through one of the copper's feet.


POGOs are businesses licensed and operated within the Philippines but serving overseas markets. Licenses tend to be for either live-streamed table games like video roulette, or backstage support and admin work for gambling operations.

Because the customers are mostly non-Filipino pacific nations, a great many of the employees of POGOs are from abroad. Taiwan and China provide the bulk of the ~150,000 workers in the industry.

Being overseas workers makes these employees ideal for involvement at both ends of the kidnapping racket. As victims, they may be at a disadvantage linguistically and may lack support networks.

As perpetrators, they can take advantage of the tense relations between China and the Philippines to easily disappear without fear of extradition.

Brig. Gen. Jonnel Estomo, the director of the Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group explained the uptick in cases as being due to COVID. “There was a slight increase in the recorded cases particularly in the year 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic," said Estomo. “Since there was a stoppage on the operations of the online gaming casinos, employers have no profit and in order to survive they will detain their employees and deprive them and ask for money in exchange for liberty to their families abroad.”

It's an unusual way of making up the deficit in your corporate accounts.

Featured image source: Flickr