The Philippines is one of the few places on earth where cockfighting is legal and has a government-approved gambling infrastructure to go along with it. However, as times have changed, so too has the legal landscape for sabong, and the advent of unregulated e-sabong in particular has forced the government to act by presenting and unanimously voting in favor of House Bill 8910.
This bill seeks to broaden the scope of the Games and Amusements Board (GAB), giving it the authority to regulate – or, alternatively, deem unlawful – online domestic sabong betting, aka e-sabong. The bill was approved by the legislature on February 21, 2019, but it has not yet been signed by President Rodrigo Duterte (as of mid-2020) or included in current Philippine gambling laws.
Because sabong sports betting is a foundational aspect of the game, (cockfighting simply wouldn’t exist if bettors couldn’t wager on the outcomes), the government has chosen step lightly in its efforts to bring the ancient event into the 21st century. After all, in a sabong nation like the Philippines, the wagering aspect is as traditional as the game itself. Thus, e-sabong has become a matter of national import, which is where HB 8910 comes in.
What Is Sabong?
In the Philippines, sabong is by far the most revered national sport. While there are plenty of basketball fans and boxing enthusiasts in the Islands, sabong – both regulated and unregulated – is the undisputed cultural pastime. For sports betting fans in the Philippines, sabong reigns supreme.
If you didn’t know, sabong, in a word, is cockfighting. The sport pits two gamecocks (or fighting roosters) against one another in a small cockpit, where they peck and hack away at one another with blades affixed to their legs. There are various rules and standards that different cockpits use, but typically, this blood sport is a fight to the death.
Betting on sabong is generally an informal but rigid affair with fixed odds, and in the Philippines, there are both regulated and unregulated cockpits. Underground cockfighting – or unregulated sabong – has long been a healthy market in the country, and little has been done to bring these illegal cockpits into the light.
Typically, black market sabong derby events are ignored by the government. They are, after all, small potatoes. Or at least, they were. With the advent of the Internet, however, this centuries-old sport now has broad gambling reach, and e-Sabong is a real problem.
What Is eSabong?
E-sabong is the informal name for a new breed of cockfighting betting that has taken the Philippines by storm. When illegal sabong cockpits were attracting small crowds in their unregulated state, the amount of money wagered wasn’t compelling enough to force the PH government to intervene.
However, e-sabong – which allows bettors to place wagers on illegal cockfights over the Internet – has taken flight, and the volume of wagering is now robust enough that the legislature is compelled to act.
Among other things, HB 8910 is designed to establish more cockfighting oversight for the GAB, and it addresses both e-sabong and establishes so-called OCBS (Off-Cockpit Betting Station) kiosks.
Current Sabong Laws
The current legal landscape for sabong in the Philippines upholds the sport as a regulated enterprise. There are rules for which municipalities can host authorized cockpits, how much of a rake can be taken by the bookies, and how much of that rake is paid to the state in the form of taxes.
However, for every legal cockpit in the islands, there are five illegal ones, as the sport is just that popular. With the Internet making unregulated betting easier than ever, e-sabong has become an issue that the government wishes to address, as significant monies are being lost that would otherwise go to the tax coffers of the nation. HB 8910 effectively rewrites the entire approach of legal Philippine sabong and sabong betting.
About HB 8910
House Bill 8910 is a bill that combines two previously submitted pieces of gambling legislation. These include:
- HB 4843 – “AN ACT STRENGTHENING THE GAMES AND AMUSEMENTS BOARD AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES”
- HB 6983 – “AN ACT STRENGTHENING THE ROLE OF THE GAMES AND AMUSEMENTS BOARD IN THE OPERATION OF COCKFIGHTING IN THE PHILIPPINES, AMENDING THE COCKFIGHTING LAW OF 1974 AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES”
HB 8910, focusing most broadly on HB 4843, shares a similar title: “AN ACT STRENGTHENING THE GAMES AND AMUSEMENTS BOARD AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.” Those “other purposes,” of course, are the more imperative ones here, as they have to do with sabong and e-sabong laws and regulations.
How Does HB 8910 Change Philippine Sabong Regulation?
HB 8910 affects all Philippine sports under the purview of the GAB, but sabong is at the top of the pecking order for most sports bettors in the country, and the bill would alter the sabong landscape in meaningful, fundamental ways. The following are some of the new regulations that are outlined by the legislation, as HB 8910 would:
- Establish rules and regulations for cockfighting operations and conduct
- Ban illegal e-sabong
- Potentially regulate an official e-sabong market
- Enforce regulations for cockfighting tournaments and sabong derbies
- Register all gamecocks
- Criminalize and police gamecock theft
- Supervise international sabong derbies
- Collect fees from authorized sabong events (3%)
- Regulate sabong video feeds and broadcasts
- Potentially regulate e-sabong video feeds and streams
- Establish legal OCBS (Off-Cockpit Betting Stations)
- Limit OCBS venues to in-person wagering pending e-sabong legalization
- Regulate fighting cock imports
- Limit cockpit ownership to Filipino citizens
- Limit cockpits to one per city (or two if the city has more than 100,000 residents)
- Ban cockfighting on national holidays
- Investigate and enforce compliance of all cockfighting regulations
What Else Does HB 8910 Cover?
Though cockfighting is the main issue for gamblers and the government re HB 8910, it establishes many regulations for other existing sports enterprises. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Expand the GAB with a presidentially appointed chairman and two commissioners
- Expand rule-making power for the GAB
- Grant judicial oversight to the GAB
- Regulate and supervise all professional Philippine sports
- Manage licensure of all professional leagues, athletes, coaches, officials, etc.
- Collect taxes of all sporting event gate receipts (25%)
- Collect taxes on all Philippine sports betting (3%)
- Enforce pre-fight/post-fight combat sports medical exams (boxing, MMA)
- Mandate required layoffs between combat sport bouts for fighters
- Create the Athlete’s Welfare Fund for those who are injured or die competing in professional sports (chickens not included!)
- Regulate horse racing tracks and OTB (Off-Track Betting) stations
- Regulate jai alai and related betting
- Create the Anti-Illegal Gambling Unit to crack down on illegal sports betting enterprises.
HB 8910 And Offshore Betting Sites
Though HB 8910 seeks to regulate sabong and potentially legalize and standardize e-sabong, it doesn’t have anything to say about the legal offshore sports betting sites used by millions of Filipino players.
Because online casino gaming and sports betting are not offered to domestic gamblers in the islands, most of them turn to offshore sites like those listed here for the convenient betting they can’t get at home. All of the best online sportsbooks will remain legal if/when HB 8910 is signed into law.
As for whether or not the bill will promote offshore books to offer sabong wagering, that’s more difficult to predict. While e-sabong is big business in the islands, sabong odds are not usually found at offshore betting sites. The underground cockfighting derbies are so scattered and secretive – and the regulated ones are held so informally – that there is no way for the books listed here to offer up-to-date lines on cockfighting in the Philippines.
That said, for major international sabong derbies like the World Slasher Cup, which is often held in the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, you may find lines at legal Philippine sports betting sites. Still, for daily cockfighting, in-person is your best bet.
If e-sabong becomes authorized and regulated by the GAB, you may see offshore books offer odds on the contests, but you’ll legally be able to wager at OCBS facilities and via domestic online options, as well.