Philippines President Doesn’t Want to Cut Off Highly Lucrative E-Sabong

Posted on: March 18, 2022, 10:29h. 

Last updated on: March 18, 2022, 10:38h.

E-sabong is currently receiving a lot of pushback in the Philippines as the result of criminal conduct tied to cockfighting. However, the country’s president doesn’t want to intervene because of the amount of money the activity generates.

Two roosters face off in a cockfight, or sabong, in the Philippines. The practice won’t be suspended, as some lawmakers hoped. (Image: Shutterstock)

Sabong, the art of cockfighting in the Philippines, and e-sabong, its online betting companion, are the target of a push to enforce stricter controls on the practice. Both legal and illegal cockfights are common occurrences. However, lately, there has been an increase in the criminal element in the market.

Reports of widespread disappearances of individuals linked to sabong led lawmakers in the Philippine Senate to call for a temporary ban on e-sabong. That isn’t likely to happen, based on President Rodrigo Duterte’s stance on the subject.

E-sabong Boosts the Economy

At least 23 senators want a ban on e-sabong, as they demand the country’s gaming regulator, PAGCOR, investigate with the Philippine National Police how a number of individuals have disappeared without a trace. A suspension won’t change anything, though, and there’s too much money at stake to halt the practice.

Duterte asserted earlier this week that there’s no benefit to suspending e-sabong, according to the Inquirer. PAGCOR predicts that the government can earn as much as PHP8 billion (US$153 million) from the activity this year, and that’s money he isn’t willing to risk losing.

For me, I did not immediately react and push for the suspension because of the income that the government derives from allowing these kind of games to go online. The problem is, you can’t control the bettors,” states President Rodrigo Duterte.

Since January, there have been at least 31 mysterious disappearances presumably linked to the sabong industry. Approximately 10 have been missing since the middle of last year, their last known whereabouts a cockfight in Bulacan. Some 16 disappeared after attending two fights this past January.

There have been no solid leads in the cases and no traces of what occurred. In one incident, surveillance captured a car belonging to one of the victims as it left the fight. However, it then vanished into thin air.

The Philippine National Police believes it is making progress. It has identified eight persons of interest, but has not been able to formally charge anyone.

Gambling Revenue Important in the Philippines

It wasn’t until recently that the Philippines began to emerge from the clutches of COVID-19. As a result, many commercial industries suffered, which means the country suffered. However, some forms of gambling can help offset a portion of the economic losses.

Duterte stated that he is against gambling in general because of its social costs. In addition, he’s concerned about the government’s inability to prevent minors from engaging in online cockfighting, and the threat of gambling addiction.

However, according to the president, he permitted POGOs (Philippine offshore gambling operators) and online cockfighting for good reason. The revenue helps fund the government’s pandemic response efforts and economic recovery efforts.

The Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue reported that POGO revenue for the country was PHP7.18 billion (US$137 million) in 2020. In 2019, the figure was only PHP6.42 billion (US$122.68 million). A year earlier, the POGO tax take was only PHP2.36 billion (US$45 million).

Add to this the revenue from legal e-sabong, and there’s too much money on the table to ignore. Duterte hopes law enforcement can find a solution to the problem soon. But sabong and e-sabong are too valuable to the economy to push aside.