The United Nations Human Rights Office has raised concerns about the presence of illicit online casinos in Asia, asserting that these operations are responsible for enslaving workers who are in search of better opportunities. Senior Advisor Pia Oberoi has stated that modern slavery is rampant in Southeast Asia, with many of those enslaved working in illegal online casino operations. Oberoi pointed out that transnational crime groups coerce individuals into carrying out scams against others and further explained that these activities victimize both the individuals who are scammed out of money and those who are forced to participate in perpetrating these scams.
The Philippines has been identified as a hotbed for such scams, as many online casino platforms specifically target online gamblers in countries where gambling is illegal, primarily China. The Philippines has refused to outlaw its offshore gaming operators from targeting and accepting players from China, citing the critical tax revenue generated by these iGaming firms as essential to the country’s national security. However, the current President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has been more open to addressing China’s concerns, and the two countries have tentatively agreed to address illegal online gambling.
The issue of enslaved labor in Asian online casinos extends beyond the Philippines, with Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam also heavily affected. The US State Department has warned travelers visiting Asia to be wary of human trafficking. An account of a 26-year-old Filipino woman who was forced to partake in a fraudulent cryptocurrency scheme was detailed, emphasizing the severity of the issue.
The UN Human Rights Office revealed that the Philippines played a significant role in the expansion of illegal gaming operations and the enslavement of workers. It was disclosed that the creation of the Offshore Gambling Operator (POGO) system in 2016 in the Philippines led to an increase in international human trafficking, especially as land-based casinos closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN is urging governments to provide support and assistance for trafficked persons and refrain from punishing those individuals for seeking opportunities in illegal gambling businesses.