The Philippines to fight deficit with cockfight gambling tax

Jon Pill
Posted on: December 22, 2020 05:00 PST

The government of the Philippines is introducing a new bill to tax online gambling in its $1 billion cockfighting industry. The decision comes as the government looks to fill the gap in tax revenues caused by COVID. Currently, the Philippines are looking at projections of an 8.5% to 9.5% contraction in Gross Domestic Product.

COVID hits the government's bottom line twice, as taxation is less profitable and they have to jack spending up.

Legislator Sharon Garin said of the move: “We need to maximize the national government’s revenue-generating capacity by regulating these activities without overstepping the powers of local government units and government gaming agencies.”

In the Philippines the local name for cockfighting is "sabong". In it, roosters fight, frequently to the death. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. considers sabong a bloodsport and has banned it, along with much of the world.

Crouching rooster

Roosters are, in general, extraordinarily ornery birds. Put two in a room together and feathers will fly. In the wild, or your henhouse, they fight with the large claw on a backward-facing toe known as their spur. These fights can go to the death, but will typically end with one rooster backing out exhausted.

In cockfighting as a sport, however, trainers attach metal blades to the roosters' spurs in order to ensure maximum damage. These blades are long enough and sharp enough that occasionally poetic justice takes over. There have been reports of birds puncturing their trainer's femoral artery and, in one particularly grisly instance, slashing its owner's throat.

In the U.S. cockfighting has been illegal in all fifty states since Louisiana finally got with the program in 2007.

So it might be surprising to learn that in the Philippines, not only is the blood-sport legal, but it is enormously popular. Andrea Domingo, the chair of the Philippine Amusement and Regulatory Corp. (PAGCOR), went so far as to compare it to a national sport.

Bloody sport, clean money

The Philippines regulate cockfighting. Online gambling, not so much.

There are over 2,000 cockfighting arenas in the Philippines. These brick and mortar sites are subject to the regulations. But the money that moves around in the huge associated online gambling markets exists in a legal grey area. With the COVID pandemic going on, and public gatherings either dissuaded or outlawed most of the betting has moved online.

E-sabong, where bets are placed online and the matches live-streamed, has exploded. In November, PhilStar reported that the revenue from e-sabong could be as high as P1.5 billion ($32 million) per day.

The new bill would shine a light on the shadows and in the process bring that money into the taxable realm. Current estimates are that this could be a $26 million check for the government in its first year alone.

Featured image source: Flickr