Talons Out! Online Cockfight Betting Sparks Spat in Philippine Legislature

Posted on: October 1, 2021, 09:57h. 

Last updated on: October 1, 2021, 04:58h.

The Philippines’ new licensing regime for online cockfight betting, known as e-sabong, is gathering momentum – too much momentum for the liking of some lawmakers.

Two cocks square up at the start of a cockfight in the Philippines. E-sabong has exploded in popularity since the start of the pandemic. (ABS-CBN)

The county’s gaming regulator, PAGCOR, began handing out licenses in May. That’s after the legislature passed a bill in November 2020 that sought to drag the blood sport clucking and slashing into the digital age by regulating and taxing it.

Now, lawmakers have begun to award legislative franchises to operators. These are 25-year permits that include things like live broadcast and betting rights. But critics say this legislation is being fast-tracked without adequate scrutiny.

The first such franchise was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers last week for a company called Lucky 8 Star Quest Inc. The second, for Visayas Cockers Club Inc., went before the House this week, but not without a fierce backlash from the small minority of politicians opposed to e-sabong.

‘Addictive Allure’

Deputy Speaker Bro. Eddie Villanueva and former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano noted the Lucky 8 bill had been passed from committee to approval on its second reading, all within the space of a day.

“It is imperative that there will be an opportunity to deliberate on this measure and it will not be (fast-tracked),” Cayetano said, as reported by Business Mirror.

The two lawmakers are concerned about the social impact of e-sabong on the public because of the game’s “addictive allure.”

Given the risks of increasing accessibility to all kinds of persons, including minors, and a high chance of being addicted to it, should not our consciences be troubled if we allow and even encourage e-sabong to thrive in our country under our watch?” asked Villanueva.

The issue of animal cruelty, it seems, was not even part of the conversation. Cockfights involve spectators placing bets while birds fight to the death with hooked razors attached to their talons. The birds are often injected with steroids to increase their fighting potential.

Billion-Dollar Industry

Banned in most jurisdictions around the world, cockfighting is a cultural tradition in the Philippines. The industry is believed to be worth US$1 billion per year.

E-sabong is around a decade old. But it has exploded in popularity at a time when cockfighting has been banned as a live spectator sport because of the coronavirus pandemic. That includes the World Slasher Cup, which is normally held every year at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, billed as “the Olympics of cockfighting.”

Meanwhile, the pandemic has left the cash-strapped government eager for new revenue streams. E-sabong previously existed in a legally gray area. But by regulating it, the government hopes to boost its coffers while eradicating the underground bouts that have helped the virus to spread.