Starting a new sportsbook in the Philippines

Some names and places have been changed to protect identities in this true story. At the time of edit 1 mBTC was about $1 USD.

manila-sportsbook

I recently got a job as Customer Experience Manager at a then yet to be launched sportsbook. First up there was a 2 week work trip to Manila to set up things like the company registration, open a business bank account, apply for a gambling licence, rent a combined house/office, hire customer service staff et cetera.

The Philippines is a great jurisdiction for new sportsbooks; the costs are low, human resources in Manila are good and licensing is easier than most places. There are some top quality operators like SBOBET already based there.

I met the boss. Mark, for the first time at the hotel In Manila. The first thing we discussed was our taxis from the airport. I had googled it and read that to get a fair priced (7 mBTC) metered taxi you have to walk upstairs from arrivals to departures and get in a taxi that is dropping people off because other than that only special airport taxis that cost about 15 mBTC were allowed. I also asked one of the locals on the flight about it, he confirmed this and we took the taxi together, he insisted on paying the 7 mBTC.

Mark on the other hand had paid 83 mBTC! 63 mBTC for the fair, because the driver showed him a piece of paper with a list of places and prices , 10 mBTC for a tip to the driver and 10 mBTC for a tip to “a policeman” (security guard) who “helped me find the taxi”.

Scam sportsbook licence

The first work item we had to discuss was the meeting with our lawyer the next day. I had seen the email exchange to set up this meeting and had expressed my concerns.

Mark had found the lawyer,  Reginald, online and swore by Reginald’s legitimacy because of the information on his online profile despite the fact that his name did not appear on the Philippine bar registry.

Reginald suggested the company get our bookmaking licence from Filbis, Quezon City’s (Quezon City is also where his office was) master licenser. This was a problem because there is only one body authorised to grant global e-gaming licences in the Philippines, First Cagayan Leisure and Resort Corporation (FCLRC). There was a law passed making them the monopoly licensor, all the Philippines based sportsbooks we knew were licenced with them, they had a professional and thorough website and there were many articles and resources online confirming all of this.

On the other hand none of us had ever heard of “Filbis” we could find no sportsbooks operating under their licence and there are no Google search results for them! The Filipino staff member we had already hired who had experience working for locally licensed sportsbooks confirmed all of this.

The legitimate First Cagayan sportsbook licence would be 40,000 mBTC per year plus 3% tax and needed a lot of paperwork. Whereas a Filbis licence was 20,000 mBTC per year plus 1% tax and because of Reginald’s contacts could be done quickly with paperwork that he himself could get us! This obvious scam sounded great to Mark and he had already decided what licence the company would get.

During the meeting I asked probing questions and Reginald’s answers were always inadequate and non-specific. When I ask “I read First Cagayan is the sole licenser for e-gaming in the Philippines” he said “The national laws only applying to Filipino gamblers… local governments regulate foreign operators based on a patchwork of statutes and local regulations”.

When I asked “Why are there no sportsbooks currently using this licence?” Reginald replied “of course there are! But they are Korean and Japanese so their website and all documents are in Korean or Japanese language”.

These answers greatly pleased Mark and at the end of the meeting Reginald said “great news, the President of Filbis will be here in 20 minutes and we can submit the sportsbook licence application then”. He started chatting to Mark about Football keeping him happily distracted until the contracts would arrive. This was too much for me and I spoke with Mark in private.

“This is going even better than I expected” he said. I looked at him in amazement. I had been stressing about getting a junk licence as I would be living in the company house and have my name of company documents. “Do you think this is a legit sportsbook licence or it could be a junk licence but you’re okay with that?” I asked “I thought it could be a junk licence but anything that gets us operating is good to me” he replied.

I warned Mark “I think we can expect further complications with this licence, like we pay the 20,000 mBTC and then in a few months Reginald calls and says “oh there was a problem with one of the documents we need to re-submit it, I can take care of it for another 2500 mBTC”.

I also explained we could get shake downs from the local police operating with this licence. They might come to the house and say “We will shut you down if you don’t pay us a 2000 mBTC on the spot fine” type of thing.

Then there are the national authorities who could close us down, not to get a bribe but to actually do their job, because we are operating without a valid sportsbook licence. Mark answered “We will have this licence. We can show we tried to do the right thing, anyway they want business here”.

The President and Secretary of Filbis arrived and gave us their business card, it had no physical address and an email @yahoo.com. Their tactic was to pump up Mark’s ego by asking him simple questions and then acting very impressed and excited about his answers. The Secretary said their philosophy was “If you make money, we make money” which excited Mark greatly and the Filbis guys then stood up to fist pump him across the table. Yes really, they were fist pumping!

We sat with Mark and I on one side of the table and the President and Secretary of Filbis on the other side. When I asked a question like what are our requirements under the sportsbook licence they repeatedly did a trick where the one sitting opposite Mark would talk to me and the one sitting opposite me would talk to Mark so we were all diagonally talking across each other and could not make sense of anything.

They did explain that one requirement was that we had to host the site on their approved IT provider called Bandwidth Town who had their office in the same building as Reginald’s office, where we all were.

Mark was so happy with these gentlemen he said he wanted to pay 2% profit as 1% was not enough to help the people in their area, they shouted their appreciation and stood up to fist pump. I had to join in the first pumping which I found degrading in case they thought I was as much a fool as Mark.

Against my advice Mark signed the application and agreement then and there and transferred 20,000 mBTC that night.

At the end of the meeting with everyone still present Mark got out two $20 and a $5 (the lawyer’s rate was $45 per hour) in cash and held it out to Reginald. Everyone was embarrassed, Reginald just said “No you don’t have to…my secretary will…” but Mark insisted he take it. As we left Mark shook his head, smiled and said “What top blokes, mate those were NOT scammers!”

Filipino staff and home office

Mark had hired 2 Filipinos from the outsourcing website where he had found Reginald, one as a bookmaker and one to help with IT. He thought these were great hires because it turns out the IT guy was also a drug dealer and a pimp so he had a local source for dope. Mark also hired him to develop a pay per view sex cam chat site he is launching soon.

The bookmaker was a former armed rebel who had lived in the mountains with an AK47 and a green Mao hat with a red star on the front. He had a newborn baby he had officially named “8-9” like the poker hand! I swear to you I could not make this stuff up, the gambling community is amazing.

The former gun-wielding father of 8-9 arranged for us to see the 3 best houses available in the best part of Quezon City. I told Mark when the real estate agent asked what we to not say we are gamblers and don’t say we are going to run a business from the house as owners and neighbours don’t want that in a family area, “of course” he agreed. At the first house the attractive real estate agent started making friendly chit chat with Mark and within 5 minutes everyone with ears knew we were gamblers and would have an office in the house.

By a long series of emails and false promises to fix Mark’s boasting I got us the best house but we had to pay the inflated listing price, a full year in advance and 2 months deposited. Around 45,000 mBTC all up.

We went furniture shopping for the house and bought everything at a high-end department store in one day for about 30,000 mBTC. I told Mark we could save around 40% on the same stuff by shopping around and bargaining. I was glad he was not interested as I was now having fun living the life of a millionaire and had stopped caring about the future of the business as I could see it had no future.

Pool hustler

One night we went out and Mark wanted to play pool. He ran good for a while and won 4 games in a row against different players until he found someone who would bet on it with him, it was a nice Filipino bloke.

The bet was only 5 mBTC and the game went to the black ball where Mark lost and insta-challenged the bloke to a 50 mBTC game. He talked with his friends then accepted. His girlfriend went off at him, I didn’t understand the language but it seemed she was berating him for being a degenerate and gambling food money. However I noticed his 50 mBTC came from an old expat sitting quietly in the corner like he owned the place.

In this game Mark was behind by 4 balls when the other player was already on the black. Mark sunk 4 balls in a row and the 4th shot was a good one so the other player tapped the side of the table as they do in Asia to say nice shot. Inexplicably Mark puffed out his chest and angrily said “give it a rest I’m trying to play here” he shook his head got all in a huff then missed the black and lost 50 mBTC.

Mark came over to me saying “Can you believe that dick head”. I told Mark ”That’s how you say nice shot here man” he replied “Oh yeah, and he only wanted to do it on the black, I know what he’s up to, he was trying to put me of! doggy”.

I could see what was coming next and warned him “don’t play him again mate, he is a shark, he’s getting staked by that old guy over there” to which Mark said “He might think he is a shark but I am sharking him!”. The other player came to shake hands and said “I was just lucky” Mark replied “Yeah lucky pft, I know what you’re doing. 500 mBTC?”

The local bloke nodded his head and repeated “500 mBTC” then signalled to his girlfriend who smiled, walked to the other side of the room and got him his own custom pool cue and accessories box. He wiped the floor with Mark in in 3 minutes.

The scam expands

Back to work and Mark had struck an agreement with a software and IT company to provide a white label website and some customer management features for the new sportsbook. He straight up agreed to the 18,000 mBTC launch and 3000 mBTC a month asking price without asking for a service level agreement or understanding what he was buying.

Mark thought it was a good deal because it included payment processing and customer service. It took me a 5 minute Skype chat with the company to confirm what it actually included was payment gateways in the software that we would have to fill with our own processors and technical support for our staff not customers service for our customers, we would still have to do that.

Our last business meeting was with Broadband Town, Filbis’ only authorized web host for licence holders. They talked about providing the best internet on the islands and Mark spent 15 minutes asking about which Islands had the best surf waves.

The account manager’s hand was shaking as she handed us the proposal and she nervously said “this is with Filbis licence holders preferred pricing”. It was more than 5000 mBTC up front then 1300 mBTC a month. So they were in on Reginald’s scam as well! We knew from our software provider we could get the same specifications on the private market for 100 mBTC a month.

I told Mark “We can get Broadband Town’s lowest specification basic economy hosting to host a backup version of the site on then host the real site on the private market”. He replied “But we are ready to launch now and these guys are good, we want the good hosting anyway.” So he signed up and paid the initial 5000 mBTC we had spent more than 120,000 mBTC on the trip for something guaranteed end in legal charges or failure in the market place.

Sports betting

On the last night we were relaxing with a few drinks and watching the English Premier League with our locally staff and some girls. I had my laptop open to Betfair and said “Tottenham is at 4.5 despite being higher on the table”, “Oh really?” Mark said “I’ll have a piece of that, put 600 mBTC on for me mate” “sure” I replied “all matched Tottenham Hotspur to beat Liverpool for a stake of 6oo mBTC at odds of 4.5 for potential profit of… 2100 mBTC!

Mark was grinning from ear to ear and I realised what he had done. Earlier in the day he asked me to calculate how much I was owed in salary and expenses and I had told him it was 2100 mBTC! 90 minutes later he owed me 2700 mBTC.

Mark fired me as soon as we got home from the work trip. And that’s why you should only join the quality bitcoin sportsbooks reviewed on Bitedge 🙂

The wonderful people of the Philippine Islands

I found Filipinos to be the warmest, friendliest, most talented and funniest people in Asia. They are also the most socially apt and relatable to by western standards. They are hardworking and energetic. Manila is alive, the city buzzes with energy and entrepreneurialism, everyone seems to have a project or is doing something to get ahead and improve themselves.

It’s like the whole country has collectively decided they will work their way out of poverty 60 hours a week and are doing it with humility and dignity. The scenery outside of Manila is stunningly beautiful and Pinays are awesome. If that sounds good to you please read Moving overseas as a professional sports bettor.

Postscript

Mark’s sportsbook closed due to unprofitability less than a year after this trip. Over 1,750,000 mBTC was spent.

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3 Comments

  1. Ella 3 years ago

    Starting a sportsbook. More fun in the Philippines.

  2. Real talk 1 year ago

    Like I said on your other post..what the immigration officers did was wrong..but think of it as the cost of doing your gambling business.

    • Author
      James Canning 1 year ago

      Hi Real talk, You are mixing separate things. The events in this post happened in 2013. My issue with immigration was in 2016 and I had been away from the Philippines for years in between.

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