E-sabong ban spurs shift to unlicensed betting activities

Published September 24, 2022, 11:01 AM

by Manila Bulletin

The suspension of e-sabong operations saw bettors seeking other alternatives to online cockfighting game, some of which are not regulated by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).

Joe Pisano

Jade Entertainment and Gaming Technologies, Inc. chief executive officer Joe Pisano said e-sabong’s suspension did not only result in potential revenue loss for the government, it also helped further perpetuate illegal betting activities in the country.

Only last week, the National Bureau of Investigation-Region 7 (NBI-7) arrested two businessmen and their 37 personnel for allegedly organizing illegal online cockfighting or e-sabong in Barangay Calajoan, Minglanilla, Cebu. The operation was made on the strength of a search warrant issued by Judge Veloso-Fernandez of the Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 19, against Amenic N’ Calajoano cockpit.

Investigations revealed the cockfight was reportedly streamed on the website goperya.net. During the arrest, NBI-7 seized around ₱2 million worth of gadgets, such as video cameras and computers and ₱2.6 million bet money.

“Compared to when, for example, sabong is being held in different arenas, then I guess that is where you don’t get to monitor what is happening,” Pisano said, adding the government is now losing out on the taxes that they could have collected from the business.

The online cockfighting activity’s revenue helped boost Pagcor’s contributions to the government to ₱22.91 billion in 2021, higher than the previous year despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pisano stressed it is better to have an activity that is regulated and operated by people or organizations that the government can control, rather than an activity that’s outside its scope. This way, the activity “can be run properly and will not be abused, so that this particular activity will redound to being positive rather than being negative to the economy,” he added.

Licensed e-sabong operators expect illegal betting to continue growing if government “cannot take more coordinated and effective action to combat illegal betting operators.” “If we’re allowing casinos to operate, we are allowing horseracing to operate, then what makes [e-sabong] different? It’s either you cannot say that one thing is good, but another thing is not. It should be applied equally across,” Pisano said.

To stop the proliferation of illegal e-sabong websites, he said licensed operators are willing to coordinate with lawmakers about strict regulation of the industry.

“We’re happy to work with the lawmakers. I believe there’s a lot we can contribute to help form regulations and to help drive away the illegal [operators],” Pisano said.

“At the moment, the government’s losing, the community is losing, and it’s something we can do together to help build the industry. The Philippines is the hub for gaming now… nothing makes us happier than to work with the regulators to help grow the e-sabong industry,” he added.

In May 2022, former President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the suspension of e-sabong operations around the country.

The suspension, according to reports, led some bettors to seek other alternatives to online cockfighting games.

This further perpetuated illegal betting activities in the country as gambling is no longer covered by government monitoring, like Pagcor.

In its “The State of Illegal Betting” report released in May, the Asian Racing Federation said illegal betting operators “do not share information regarding suspicious betting patterns with sports authorities or cooperate with law enforcement agencies.” And authorities had earlier acknowledged the difficulty of shutting down all illegal gambling websites and identifying those behind active sites.