E-sabong: Philippine cockfighting makes the leap to cyberspace

Cockfighting, which has been in the Philippines even during pre-colonial times, has finally made a “game-changing” shift to the online space – a consequence, no doubt, of the Covid-10 pandemic.

Now, e-sabong is increasingly becoming part of the local Internet lexicon, along with other terms such as “talpak” – the colloquial word for betting on live cockfights done electronically.

With e-sabong, people place their bets online using certain apps and websites, instead of at the cockpit arena. And then, they watch the cockfight derby in the comfort of their homes via their laptops, mobile phones or tablets. Whether live or replay, these cockfights may be viewed via YouTube, streaming sites, apps and online cockfighting forums.

They say national pastimes in the Philippines all start with “b” – basketball, boxing, billiards and beauty pageants. Well, there is a lone “c” that’s actually thrown into the mix: cockfighting, or sabong.

There’s a cockfighting derby held almost every day across the archipelago. In fact, there is a premier international cockfighting tournament held in the Philippines every year, the World Slasher Cup.

Then came Covid-19 which prompted the banning of cockfighting as a live spectator sport, leaving many more Filipinos jobless and bereft of one of their leading pastimes.

With its foray into the online world, the billion-dollar industry has upped its game. Which should be the case, especially in the light of the Covid 19 pandemic which is now driving business enterprises into digital transformation.  

Actually, e-sabong has been around in the country long before the pandemic, since around 2013. But with the onset of Covid 19 in 2020, the popularity of online cockfighting rapidly took flight.

Now, e-sabong is lording it over the cockfighting community nationwide. Thousands of aficionados have jumped in the bandwagon – breeders, cockpit operators and bettors who get a thrill out of two fiercely fighting roosters or cocks.

“Recognizing our ever-changing times, we want the cockfighting community to be able to play the sport they love- whenever and wherever. Thus, we created a user-focused online platform that’s convenient, fair and fun for all players,” says Lambert Lopez, chief financial operator of Sabong International (SI), the online cockfighting platform of Negros-based Visayas Cockers Club.

“Actually, it takes a village to run it,” he shares. “We do live video streaming coverage from our arena studios transmitted via a dedicated, secure broadband connection. Then we direct the coverage to a website hosted on cloud servers. Inside the cloud servers is the proprietary game programming made by SI’s highly skilled developers. As for online marketing, we employ mobile technology making the platform very easy, convenient and fun to play.”

Visayas Cockers Club is one of a few online cockfighting companies granted a license by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) earlier this year. The rest includes Lucky 8 Star Quest (Pitmasters Live), Jade Entertainment and Gaming Technologies (Jade Sabong), Newin Cockers Alliance Gaming (NCA), Philippine Cockfighting International (Platinum Cockers Club) and Golden Buzzer. (BAGWISAN).

With their accreditation, these e-sabong firms do not only continue to entertain cockfighting aficionados in the Philippines through legal means despite the Covid-19 restrictions. They are also pumping in huge revenues to the country’s coffers — filling in the void left by the huge number of POGO firms which have closed shop.

According to an article in abs-cbn.com, Pagcor chair and CEO Andrea Domingo claims that e-sabong activities fetch P400 million every month.

These e-sabong firms, some of which operate 24/7, also provide much-needed livelihood to agents, coordinators, breeders, derby organizers, veterinarians and other individuals in the era of Covid-19.

Several more e-sabong companies are waiting in line to be licensed by PAGCOR, which started to formally regulate online cockfighting in May 2021. 

“I think it would definitely help if we have a strong enough infrastructure to support its technological growth,” shares Lopez about online cockfighting in the Philippines.

“For instance, it would really be interesting to see how virtual reality and sabong will come together in the future. Imagine making the gamer feel like he’s really in an arena, surrounded with the sounds of cheering and shouting, when he’s actually just in his living room,” Teves explains, “enjoying the comfort of his home.”

But, with “sabong” going online, its reach has also expanded way beyond the cockpit arenas or “galleras”. Among those who have been hooked to this national pastime are OFWs – particularly lonely seamen — who have become addicted to the game to the detriment of their finances.

Stories abound in social media of cases where forlorn Pinoys abroad would make online “talpakan” with wild abandon only to lose their savings and come home empty handed to their families in the Philippines.

This could be the reason why Pagcor recently released new regulations saying that bets from abroad will no longer be allowed in local e-sabong platforms.

Pagcor said “despite regulatory policies and controls, certain sectors have expressed their concern on the increasing patronization by the Filipino public of online games, or e-sabong.”

Pagcor said concerned groups have noted that there is now an “active participation of our OFWs in the said games.”

“Our regulatory framework provides, in part, that the E-sabong platform shall not accept bets emanating outside the Philippines and shall not be accessible in any way whatsoever outside the Philippines. To ensure that this standard is met, applicants for E-sabong operations are required to submit a certification from a gaming laboratory attesting that the gaming websites are not accessible outside the Philippines and that Internet Protocol (IP) addresses emanating from other countries are blocked or restricted from accessing such websites,” Pagcor said in a statement.

“To bolster the need to uphold the welfare of our people who may succumb to the ills of irresponsible gaming, the framework further provides for the imposition of administrative penalties to operators who shall fail to comply with set standards and requirements. Hence, offshore betting, or bets coming from players abroad, even if from Filipinos, are not allowed in E-sabong,” the gaming regulator said.

Pagcor said “with the institution of these controls” it is “able to ensure that the interests and welfare of our OFWs and their families are upheld and protected.”

“We are not oblivious however to the fact that certain websites are accessible abroad. These, if any, are illegal websites operating outside the regulatory authority of Pagcor. However, should any of our licensed operators be caught offering their fights abroad, they shall be meted with the applicable penalties as provided in our regulation. We thus request the public to report to Pagcor those websites which are accessible abroad for our proper disposition,” it said.

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