Duterte: Yes to ‘e-sabong,’ no to 24/7 gambling
MANILA, Philippines — Unless Congress decides otherwise, the national government, through the Philippine Games and Amusement Corp. (Pagcor), will continue to allow and regulate online cockfighting, or “e-sabong,” but President Rodrigo Duterte doesn’t want the game played the whole day.
“It’s only done in America, in the casinos in hotels. Here, it’s not being held in the hotel but the entire nation is free to go gambling,” the president said during a recorded meeting with Cabinet members and other government officials on Tuesday that was broadcast on Wednesday.
“So, I will look first on what is its system. But gambling for 24 hours, I seem to disagree with that proposition,” he added.
Duterte said he is personally against all forms of gambling because of its social costs, in addition to problems of game-fixing and the government’s inability to keep minors away from online cockfighting and becoming addicted to it.
The president said he allowed Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) and online cockfighting because the revenues helped fund the government’s pandemic response and economic recovery efforts.
Data from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) showed that Pogo collections amounted to P7.18 billion in 2020. These went down to P6.42 billion in 2019. In 2018, the Pogo tax take amounted to only P2.36 billion, according to BIR Commissioner Caesar Dulay.
P76-B tax take seen
In October last year, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said that tax collections from Pogos were expected to reach P76.2 billion in 2022-2023.
Pagcor chair Andrea Domingo said that the agency was projecting a collection this year of P7.2 billion to P8 billion in regulatory fees from seven companies licensed to conduct online cockfighting.
Since it started regulating the game in April 2021 and up to December 2021, Pagcor earned around P3.691 billion, exclusive of other taxes and fees that other government agencies may collect.
From January to mid-March this year, Pagcor already collected around P1.375 billion.
It was revealed during a Senate hearing on March 4 that the government generated P640 million in monthly revenue from e-sabong operations since January, while the online company of gaming consultant Atong Ang earned P3 billion in gross monthly income.
According to Ang, daily bets total an average of P1 billion or P2 billion, or “more or less P60 billion” a month.
Of P60 billion worth of monthly bets, 5 percent, or P3 billion, a month goes to Ang’s company. His company’s agents get P2 to 2.5 billion from that amount, Ang said.
Appeal to lawmakers
“So, I will choose now between losing income by the billions [of pesos] and allowing it,” the president said during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
“Too bad we don’t have money. We’re short of money. That is why I permitted it, including the Pogos,” he added.
To lawmakers seeking to prohibit online cockfighting, he said: “My appeal to congressmen, don’t touch it, it’s already earning, no one benefits from it except Pagcor.”
Domingo said Pagcor is continuing to fine-tune its “policies, systems and procedures, and controls” on e-sabong.
She said it would be best to keep e-sabong supervised and regulated by Pagcor.
Domingo said Pagcor was tightening its watch and monitoring of accredited operators by installing CCTVs not only within cockpit arena premises but also in surrounding areas to keep minors away as well as prevent criminal activities, such as the disappearance of more than 30 people involved in e-sabong.
There would also be stricter rules on player registration and bet limits, she added.
To discourage minors under 21 from playing, Domingo said Pagcor plans to jack up the minimum bet amount from the current P100.
The regulator also plans to require a balance of at least P1,000 in each player’s e-wallet account before being allowed to place bets.
From 2010 until last year, online cockfighting was unregulated. It became popular during the pandemic when virtual betting became more accessible due to faster internet services, Domingo said.
Suspending the licenses of companies conducting the games, as some lawmakers wanted, is not enough as cockfighting could be staged secretly and betting will just continue underground.
Mr. Duterte agreed. “That’s what will happen,” he said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Pagcor could continue regulating online cockfighting as part of its “general jurisdiction.”
The two groups which are regulated or licensed by Pagcor—the operators of the off-site betting station and the service providers—use the internet and can operate nationwide, outside of the jurisdiction of the local governments, he said.
The gambling addiction and the reported disappearances should be weighed against the economic impact and revenue used to address the pandemic, Guevarra said.
“If Congress believes that a more specific, a clearer, and more unequivocal authorization is needed for the operation of e-sabong, then Congress is free to enact the appropriate law for the grant of franchises to e-sabong operations,” he said.
—WITH REPORTS FROM BEN O. DE VERA AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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