For years, Kentucky has been known as the epicenter of horse racing, as numerous champion thoroughbreds have been born and bred in the Bluegrass State. However, on Thursday, an animal welfare group said the state is also a top breeding hub for cockfighting rings around the world.
Animal Wellness Action sent letters to the US Attorneys representing Kentucky’s eastern and western districts. They asked to investigate seven individuals who the group says breed birds for fighting purposes. That has been against federal law since 2002 and a felony since 2007.
The seven individuals were interviewed by a Filipino broadcast crew as part of a series on cockfighting. BNTV, Animal Wellness Action claims, televises cockfighting in the Philippines and showcased what is considered to be some of the best farms in the US.
Kentucky is at the center of the American and global cockfighting industry, with major operators shipping birds all over the world,” said Wayne Pacelle, Animal Wellness Action’s president said.
Cockfighting — which is illegal in all 50 states — typically involves side betting among those in the audience. In addition, owners pay hundreds of dollars to enter their birds in “derbies,” such as the World Slasher Cup in the Philippines.
“We’re talking about, globally, a multi-billion dollar industry,” Pacelle added. “I mean, it sounds absurd to throw the b-word out, but when you understand scale of the operations, that is absolutely the case.”
While cockfighting is illegal across the US, it’s only a misdemeanor in eight states, including Kentucky. On Thursday, one state senator said he’s willing to push for legislation that would change that.
We’ve got to crack down, we’ve got to do better, and in 2021, you will see a bill introduced to ban cockfighting and to make many of the aspects surrounding cockfighting a serious crime in Kentucky,” said state Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville).
Former Kentucky Attorney General Chris Gorman said he was shocked and embarrassed that the state plays such a prominent role in the global cockfighting enterprise. The key, Gorman says, is to take the profit out of the activity in order to stop it.
One way to do that, Pacelle said, is to target the breeders.
“Like other sports involving animals, if you win derbies, if you win the World Slasher Cup… then you get a reputation as a good breeder, then you can sell your animals for a high price,” Gorman said.
While cockfighting is illegal in the US, fights still happen across the country in both rural and urban areas.
Last December, law enforcement in Georgia arrested 20 people during a session. Officers said nearly 50 people paid $600 to enter five birds, and the winner was set to take home more than $27,000.
The last legal bastion for cockfighting in the US was Puerto Rico and the other US territories. However, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act passed last year made cockfighting and dogfighting illegal in those jurisdictions.
When Puerto Rico passed a sports betting bill last year, it allowed former cockfighting rings to apply for a sports betting license at no cost for the next 10 years.