Cockfighting has become an online sensation in the Philippines. The bloodsport, which is locally known as sabong, used to be on the decline but has now become a major industry in the country, raking in millions of dollars in wagers each day.
The Philippines is the only country in the world that accepts online bets for cockfighting. According to the people in the industry, online cockfight events are drawing in more monthly revenue than casino giants such as Resorts World Manila and City of Dreams Manila, capturing the interest of investors. Countries like Mexico and Papua New Guinea have also been reported to consider venturing into online betting.
Widespread Popularity of E-Sabong
Unlike in the West, cockfighting has no stigma in the Philippines. It brings in crowds that can be on par with baseball games in the U.S. or football matches in Europe. Charlie “Atong” Ang, dubbed as the “legal gambling lord” of the Philippines, runs the top-of-the-line online cockfighting platform called Pitmasters Live. Matches are streamed 24/7, with an average of 350 a day. Minimum bets are set at less than 2 USD (100 PHP), making online cockfighting affordable and instantaneous, contributing to the rapid rise of the industry.
Online cockfighting, or e-sabong, gained widespread popularity due to the pandemic. Pre-COVID19, in-person cockfight events were limited by the Government to Sundays and holidays. Entry costs of cockpits were raised as well. When the pandemic hit, businesses shut down, including casinos and cockfighting pits. Claire Alviar, an analyst at Philstocks Financial Inc. said, “Online cockfighting wouldn’t be this big were it not for the pandemic and the game’s accessibility through mobile phones.”
Ang’s Pitmasters Live has a near-monopoly in the industry. According to Ang, his group generates more than 700 billion PHP annually in wagers. The Pitmasters platform collects an average of 2 billion to 3 billion PHP each, with 95% of that amount going to bettors as their winnings and the remaining 5% to Pitmasters and its agents as commission. The platform also pays a monthly tax of 135 million PHP to the state-run gambling regulator. Ang declared that his group’s revenue each month is 1.5 billion PHP.
E-Sabong Consequences in the Philippines
The swift rise of online cockfighting, or e-sabong, in the Philippines, has also drawn dire consequences. There are reports of numerous individuals falling into debt due to e-sabong, even going so far as to sell their own children for money. There is also a case of a gambler killing his neighbor after being refused to be lent money, and another case where a gambler offed himself after accumulating a debt totaling 600,000 PHP.
The most notable case concerning e-sabong is the disappearance of 34 people who were all last seen at cockfighting arenas. Additionally, a grenade was found in a Pitmasters cockpit in Manila. The Senate summoned Ang for questioning, and Ang stated that Pitmasters have nothing to do with the incidents.
Online cockfighting has also gained the scrutiny of animal rights advocates. Jason Baker, senior vice president at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), wrote in an email, “Moving this cruel and unethical practice online is a desperate move by a dying industry. Birds are mutilated, injected with steroids, and forced to fight until their unnecessary death.”
Ang scoffed in response, referring to the sport as “honorable”. He stated, “Among the games that you can bet on, cockfighting’s 50-50 odds of winning is the best there is. They say gambling is bad, but why are casinos, liquor, and cigarettes legal? It’s because they’re paying taxes.”
E-Sabong Now Banned by Philippine President
On May 2, 2022, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines suspended e-sabong operations after the disappearance of 34 people who were associated with cockfighting matches. The Malacañang is yet to issue a written statement banning e-sabong in the country.