The suspension of “e-sabong” operations saw bettors seeking other alternatives to the online cockfighting game, some of which were no longer regulated by Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) such as the recent apprehension of illegal e-sabong operators in Cebu, an industry executive said.
Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation Region 7 recently arrested two businessmen and 37 other persons for allegedly organizing illegal online cockfighting.
The arrest was made last week in Barangay Calajoan, Minglanilla, Cebu based on a search warrant issued by Judge Veloso-Fernandez of Branch 19 of the Regional Trial Court filed against Amenic N’ Calajoano cockpit.
In reaction, Jade Entertainment and Gaming Technologies, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Joe Pisano said the ban on e-sabong did not only result in potential revenue loss for the government, but also helped perpetuate illegal betting activities in the country.
“Compared to when for example sabong was being held in different arenas, then I guess that is where you don’t get to monitor what is happening,” Pisano said, adding that the government is now losing out on taxes that they could have collected from the business.
The online cockfighting activity’s revenue helped boost PAGCOR’s mandated contributions to nation building to P22.91 billion in 2021, which grew from the previous year despite the challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the NBI-7, among those arrested were alleged operators of the illegal e-sabong websites identified as Carlos Uy Gothong lll and Sergio Lu. Investigations revealed that the cockfight was allegedly streamed on the website goperya.net.
During the arrest, NBI-7 seized around P2 million worth of gadgets such as video cameras and computers and bet money amounting to P2.6 million.
Pisano stressed that it is better to have an activity that is regulated and operated by people or organizations that the government has the confidence to do so than an activity that’s outside the authorities’ scope.
This way, the activity “can be run properly and will not be abused, so that this particular activity will rebound to being a positive rather than being a negative to the economy,” he added.
The federation expects illegal betting to continue growing if governments “cannot take more coordinated and effective action to combat illegal betting operators.”
“Because 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,” Pizano said.
To stop the proliferation of illegal e-sabong websites, he said that licensed e-sabong 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 across the country.
However, several reports said that the prohibition led some bettors to seek other alternatives to the online cockfighting games.
This further perpetuated illegal betting activities in the country as gambling was no longer covered by the monitoring of relevant agencies such as PAGCOR.
Illegal betting operators “do not share information regarding suspicious betting patterns with sports authorities or cooperate with law enforcement agencies,” the Asian Racing Federation said in The State of Illegal Betting report released in May.
Authorities have earlier acknowledged it would be difficult to shut down all illegal gambling websites and identify those behind the active sites.