Gambling lord Atong Ang, the Philippines‘ biggest e-sabong operator, says that e-sabong isn’t dead, it is merely suspended. “When it resumes, it will be more regulated and the fights will no longer be round-the-clock,” Ang added. E-Sabong is the local term for online cockfighting in the Philippines. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, online cockfighting became widespread in the Philippines, raking in billions in revenue.
How and when the comeback of e-sabong isn’t clear, especially with the Philippine government currently in transition. Earlier in May 2022, Duterte suspended all e-sabong operations due to its social costs. According to a Bloomberg report, Ang’s Pitmasters platform paid PHP 135 million in monthly tax to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor). The Pitmasters platform collected PHP 2 billion to PHP 3 billion a day, of which 95% went to winning cockfighting bettors and the rest to Ang and his agents.
Critics of e-sabong will not be happy with its return as most of them says the activity destroys lives. The fast rise of e-sabong has been tied to numerous cases of individuals falling into debt and going so far as to sell their own children or kill other people for money. The most notable case regarding e-sabong involves the disappearance of 34 individuals who were all last seen at cockfighting arenas.
Ang says he is ready to defend e-sabong in any court, even before God. He says he prays every day without fail and he does it with a clear conscience. “Losing a few thousand pesos won’t make the poor poorer,” Ang said, believing that e-sabong enthusiasts have a chance to make their lives even just a bit better by betting as little as PHP 100. Ang also stated that his Pitmaster Cares Foundation has spent nearly a billion to help those in need.
There are speculations that Ang has raked in so much money from e-sabong but, guided by his own code and dictum, he dismisses all the talk about big money. “If one wants to talk about big money and thievery, one should look at the country’s unscrupulous lawmakers, politicians, and the wheeler-dealers in every administration,” Ang said.
According to Ang, the investigation against his e-sabong business was orchestrated by corrupt officials acting on behalf of competitors who want him out of the picture. He also believes that the case against him is meant as a distraction from more pressing issues. Ang has repeatedly denied any involvement in the cases of the missing cockfighters, insisting that they are drug-related.
Ang fully believes that e-sabong will be back. He doesn’t say when, but surely it won’t be today nor tomorrow.