OEK holds public hearing on online gaming. Hearing conducted by House of Delegates on bill to expand licensing for online gaming.

Congress (Olbiil Era Kelulau’s) Senate and House JGA committees conducted a joint public hearing yesterday on a proposed House bill 10-124-12 to amend the existing internet gaming law, the Virtual Pachinko and Internet Digits Lottery law, increasing number of licenses from 4 to 10 and redefining the name of the games from Internet Digits Lottery Game to just Internet Gaming.

Minister of Justice and Vice President Raynold Oilouch testifying in his capacity as Minister of Justice said internet gaming was already in Palau. The recent raids of gaming dens show that it was already here.  He added that they were alerted by various sources such as Customs & Border Protection, PNCC and others of the unusual activities which led him and the Minister of Finance to create a taskforce to investigate the situation.

“The recent arrests are the result of the many months’ work by the taskforce,” reported Vice President Oilouch. He added that they have apprehended 105 but estimate nearly 1,000 persons are doing online gaming in Palau already.

Vice President revealed a decision made to fine the 105 apprehended persons and deport them out.  Reasoning cited for this decision is the limited number of available prosecutors and lack of available facility to detain the people.

Delegate Isechal voiced opposition to the decision made to fine and deport the violators of labor and immigration laws saying that “we will be sending out a message to the world that we are weak and can’t enforce our laws.”  He expressed his desire to see all persons caught in the raid to be charged to the full extent of the law.

Minister of Finance Elbuchel Sadang for his part said that is has been very difficult for those that have acquired licenses legally to begin operations here due to licensing and other technical issues.  For example, the law is silent on the requirement for FIB license but all government and state agencies require it for their own permitting processes.

Sadang emphasized that the current law is also outdated and difficult to enforce.  For example, the law mandates PNCC to block local traffic to online gaming servers but PNCC is not the only internet provider in Palau.  The current law requires that servers hosting the gaming programs be located in Palau but current technology and applications using cloud computing makes this kind of business difficult to start.

He added that the gaming business comes with whole host of other needs such as a need to have lot of people manning call centers for gaming.  This has been happening all over Asia as seen in the news and it is here now.

The Virtual Pachinko and Internet Digit Lottery law is 20 years old, enacted in August 2000, and is so technologically outdated, it is unenforceable.  Both ministers urged lawmakers to review the law in light of current circumstances.

The question of its legality in light of the 2011 Gaming Constitutional Referendum was not addressed.  The 2011 Referendum asked “Do you approve of the establishment of casino gaming in the Republic of Palau?” in which over 75% of the voters said no.    In light of this issue, the question in need of an answer is whether casino gaming is the same thing as internet gaming.  The current proposed amendments seek only to increase the number of online gaming businesses. (L.N. Reklai)