Port Irene is changing from a used car lot into an online gambling hub, but not everyone is behind the change. Because of its unique location and laws governing it there is not much that can be done about the change.

Port Irene, Sta. Ana, Cagayan has been a hub of used cars for many years and was recently under investigation for the smuggling of stolen cars. But they have turned their sites to the online gambling world in hopes of a better future. The American Chamber of Commerce recently returned from inspecting the used car industry which has plagued many car makers and determined that the removal of the used car industry for gambling would have little to no economic impact as those displaced when the car industry was shut down would have no problem finding work at the gambling sites.

The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) is not under the supervision of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) and thus a law written in 1995 by Juan Ponce Enrile, then a Representative established a special economic zone of Port Irene. The law allows them “to operate on its own, either directly or through a subsidiary entity, or license to others, tourism-related activities, including games, amusements, recreational and sports facilities such as horse racing, dog racing, gambling casinos, golf courses, and others, under priorities and standards set by the CEZA.” Which makes it the only free port allowed to legally operate online gaming outside the monopoly of Pagcor’s jurisdiction.

Port Irene charges less than their Pagcor governed counterparts in the Philippines  and Macau, which is drawing in high-rollers from Hong Kong, Taiwan and further away. The gamblers send in proxy players and themselves play in one of the many online gaming portals offered by the CEZ.

Right now there are almost two hundred gaming rooms offered, although plans are in the works for expansion. Four hundred are being planned this year but CEZA wants to have eight hundred rooms and two casinos at least, with plans for more if revenue continues to increase.

As access is limited they are also looking into adding an international airstrip to make it easier to get players into Port Irene. CEZA is also looking to investors to finance the laying of fiber optic cables to Hong Kong to upgrade the internet capability of Port Irene. They have also been trying to talk up the white sand beaches, tropical forests and other tourist opportunities of the Cagayan. Most casino sites that do well offer a full experience for the entire family which draws in more business.

Sill the gambling in Port Irene is not without its opponents. Archbishop Oscar Cruz of the Lingayen-Dagupan diocese has asked that the gambling operations and CEZA be looked at and brought under the same laws and Pagcor direction as the rest of the country. The Senate Committee on Ways and Means recently investigated CEZA, but in relation to the car industry and has encouraged those with issues to make a complaint to the Senate. There are also concerns that there is gambling happening outside of the Port in RCBC Plaza (in Makati).

Last year Port Irene brought in over one hundred million in revenue and expect that to rise to around two hundred million this year with the rise in gamblers. Two percent of this is split between CEZA and the free port’s master licensor.