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MALAYBALAY CITY (28 July) – Efraim Genuino, former chair of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp, tried to explain the whooping P1 billion the state-run firm spent on coffee reportedly served to casino players during the whole term of the Arroyo administration. Divide the figure by nine years, and the quotient is still eye-popping – P100 million per year. If I were Mr. Genuino, I would have kept my peace, as his explanation has only made him drown deeper in the controversy.

There are things that Mr. Genuino could not adequately explain, including the awarding of concessionaire contracts covering seven Pagcor casinos to a single company without a public bidding. He said the decision was based on the supposed preference of the players. We should ask the Commission on Audit if this is enough reason to forgo bidding. It also sounds incredulous that the players across the seven casinos could possibly have the same choice of coffee. That’s pushing the laws of statistical probability a bit too far.

And will Mr. Genuino say it was sheer coincidence that the company that cornered the contracts, Promolabels Specialty Shop, which put up Figaro coffee shops in the casinos, happens to be owned by Carlota Cristi Manalo-Tan, the wife of his friend Johnny Tan?

But the biggest mind boggling statement from the former Pagcor chair was this: Pagcor never spent on coffee consumed by the casino players because the players paid for it through a rebate system. This was a weak attempt to go around the issue which only made Mr. Genuino incriminate himself some more.

Rebate, or discount or refund, is actually cash returned to customers as incentive for patronage of certain products or services. Mr. Genuino himself said that the players, or some of them, earned points which were reflected in their Player Tracker System cards and which they used “like cash” to pay for the coffee. Now, since the players with PTS cards didn’t pay cash to Figaro, who did? It doesn’t need an accountant for us to know that Pagcor paid for the coffee through the rebate system.

A product – coffee – was being sold. No pay, no cup of the beverage in your hand. Still, Mr. Genuino insisted there’s nothing on record that shows that Pagcor paid for the coffee. The players with PTS cards didn’t pay either. That makes Figaro a charitable coffee shop with casino players as their beneficiaries.

It wouldn’t have looked bad if it could be justified that Pagcor needed to spend much on coffee to keep the customers and their cash coming. Show me a scientific study that shows a casino could entice more customers by offering free coffee, and I would concede. Or maybe, just give comparative statistics on customer attendance covering the years that no free coffee was served and during the years that the players got to enjoy the beverage for free.

In the meantime, I need another cup. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com)

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