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MANILA, Aug 27 (Reuters) – The Philippines’ anti-money laundering body is studying the scope of the country’s online gambling industry to determine the impact on the economy if it stopped operating, its chairman said on Tuesday.

Benjamin Diokno, who is governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and head of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, has ordered the agency and the central bank’s financial stability team to “put some sense to this online gambling”.

“What if all of a sudden they decide to pack up and leave? What will be the impact of that on the property sector, also the food industry, the restaurants? This is part of my job as BSP governor,” Diokno told an economic forum on Tuesday.

Online gambling companies, known as Philippine offshore gambling operators (POGOs), are a boon for the local economy, drawing many visitors from China who work in them, fuelling property demand and retail spending.

The POGOs, which bar Filipinos from playing, contribute to national coffers through license fees.

The industry is opaque and its scale hard to measure. Officially, there are 60 POGOs, but critics say that hugely understates the number.

China has urged the Philippines to ban online gaming to support its crackdown on cross-border gambling, which it said foreign criminals had used to embezzle and launder funds as well as illegally recruit workers.

When Diokno was asked if he thinks online gambling firms were being used as money laundering conduits, he replied “not necessarily”.

The Philippine gaming regulator has stopped issuing licenses to online gambling firms, and lawmakers and some ministers have called for tighter controls on Chinese visitors, saying many are illegal workers whose presence raises security concerns.

Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia told Tuesday’s forum the government should probably regulate where POGOs set up shop because there is “over-building of offices and condominiums” in and around the capital. ($1 = 52.4500 Philippine pesos) (Reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Richard Borsuk)