E-sabong brings more trouble than good

The CEBU audience was shocked to learn that four active-duty police officers and a fired man were behind the February 13 brutal robbery and murder of barangay (village) councilor Maria Louela Baringui-an and candidate for city councilor, and her husband, Peter, in the city of San Fernando, Cebu. It was equally shocking to read about Laguna Ppat. Glenn Angoluan, who robbed several convenience stores to pay his mounting debt. The debt is said to have reached around 1 million pesos and stemmed from the policeman’s reliance on off-site betting on cockfights broadcast online, the so-called e-sabong.

E-sabong is the government’s latest golden egg laying hen with the faded glory of POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators). The billions of pesos the government is already earning from online cockfighting are obviously much-needed revenue after two years of the pandemic. As Jose Rizal said sarcastically in Noli Me Tangere, vice pays for its freedom by funding schools, bridges and highways. “Blessed be the vice that produces such good results!”

Vice — blessed or not — and crime, unfortunately, often go hand in hand, as the case of the Angoluan patrolman reminds us. Indebted players have been kidnapped, tortured and even killed by those to whom they owe money. There was the 2017 attack on the Resorts World casino in Manila by a man whose life was destroyed by gambling. We now have a case of 31 sabungeros (rooster fighters) missing. We think they were abducted. Are they still alive? The first case reportedly happened in April last year, shortly after the first two e-sabong operators obtained licenses from Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.). On February 24, the Senate Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee opened an investigation into the alleged kidnappings and other e-sabong-related issues. The committee asked Pagcor to temporarily suspend the licenses of the seven e-sabong operators. It has also been suggested that GCash be removed from the payment system. GCash, unlike credit cards, is readily available to most people.

According to a May 10, 2021 article in Bilyonaryo.com, applicants for an e-sabong license must post a bond of 75 million pesos and pay a “fixed regulatory fee of 12,500 pesos per bout or 75 million pesos per month (or 200 fights per day, excluding fights that end in a draw).” Due to these conditions, some contestants withdrew, according to the publication. “Sky is the limit of betting on e-sabong,” the article continues, “since Pagcor has only imposed a minimum bet of P100 per fight.” Two hundred fights a day (is that really true?) per operator who accepts bets as low as P100 from anywhere in the country.Compare that to regular, traditional cockfighting – with its old-fashioned spot bets – which are limited as to which days and how many days they can be held.

There has been some debate as to whether the operating license granted by Pagcor is a sufficient legal basis for e-sabong. Pagcor has so far licensed seven entities. Three of the seven licenses were issued in October 2021. However, it has also been argued that a franchise from Congress is needed to legalize e-sabong. The House of Representatives granted Lucky 8 Star Quest Inc. (owned by Atong Ang) a 25-year franchise in September 2021, and a similar franchise for Visayas Cockers Club Inc. was approved at committee level last November. Thus, it would seem that the e-sabong operators themselves believe that a franchise is necessary. Of course, it also gives Congress a higher degree of oversight and power over e-sabong.

The Visayas Cockers franchise deliberations revealed that not all legislators are in favor of e-sabong. With the national government needing revenue and thousands employed in the cockfighting industry, the question is whether the price we are paying as a society is worth it. The Angoluan patrolman might be an extreme case, but his case is probably just the tip of the iceberg. We already know that online gaming addiction is a problem, even among adults. E-sabong, however, is not a game but for real because you are betting real money. “The poor go there [to the cockpit] risking everything they have, eager to earn without work. The rich go there to be entertained,” Rizal wrote. Risking it all just got so much easier with our gadgets. Filipinos, including minors (obviously, the identity verification process that Pagcor asks operators to go through is not foolproof).[sucking] in e-sabong” of the savings of “fathers and mothers whose bank accounts and wallets are depleted”, especially when considering the “unprecedented unemployment and underemployment”. I couldn’t agree more .

About Marion Browning

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