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Have you heard of E-SABONG?

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Have you heard of E-SABONG?-What is e-sabong?

E-sabong is the online version of the country’s oldest pastime. Before it was suspended, it was held in licensed arenas surrounded by cameras, which stream the fight to thousands of online gamblers across the country.

It is unlike the traditional version where fights are held in huge arenas and hundreds of loud, boisterous and wild sabong aficionados and wagers alike are gathered around to witness the spectacle.

Sabong, as we all know, is a centuries-old blood sport, often dubbed as the country’s national pastime, predating the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, who landed on our shores more than 500 years ago.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the traditional sabong was suspended as huge gatherings were not allowed.

But there was no stopping it. It merely turned virtual, streamed across the country with aficionados watching and placing their bets using laptops or mobiles from the comforts of their homes.

In this world, the roosters were the ones that lay the golden eggs. Operators raked in billions.

But things changed when Duterte suspended e-sabong in May 2022 due to its social costs. One operator alone collected P2 to P3 billion a day, of which 95 percent went to winning bettors and the rest to agents, according to a Bloomberg report in March last year.

However, just like a thousand other things not allowed in this nation of 110 million, e-sabong continues. To this day. Many e-sabong operators didn’t really stop, my sources attest.

Have you heard of E-SABONG?-E-sabong is still very much alive?

In clandestine dirt rings all over the country, or private, secret patches of earth, game fowls are still fighting – day and night, 24/7 – and these fights are streamed to thousands of online gamblers huddled over their cell phones across the country. It’s as if e-sabong never stopped.

Indeed, more than a year after then president Duterte suspended e-sabong operations in May 2022, this addictive pastime is still very much alive, multiple industry sources have confirmed.

It’s no surprise therefore that a frustrated Philippine National Police chief, Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr., says they are having a hard time cracking down on these gambling activities. He now wants e-sabong to be declared illegal – and not merely suspended – so that it is penalized under Presidential Decree 1602, the country’s anti-illegal gambling law.

Have you heard of E-SABONG ?-What can the government do then?

This stark reality puts the Marcos administration in a bind. It can either lift the suspension so that it can properly regulate and tax this wild industry or seriously crackdown on it.

The problem is deep and it would take a lot of political will and resources to really implement the suspension all over the country.

As PNP chief Azurin says, people engaged in e-sabong are well-financed and their resources are overwhelming so I think the government should also start beefing up or strengthening its cyber capability.

The President has said e-sabong would remain suspended because of the social cost but if this is the case, authorities must really crack down on these e-operators. Otherwise, if it goes on anyway, then we will just have to keep on counting the social costs.

Unfortunately, it’s a scary underworld of bets, brawls and blood. We hear of gangster-like stories of disappearing sabungeros. We hear of big politicos themselves as godfathers. Everyone in the supply chain is benefitting. Nobody wants to stop it, really.

Have you heard of E-SABONG ?-Political warlords

How is this possible? It’s like a secret society of sorts. The fights have become clandestine and are held in far-flung, secret farms. Some are held in mountainous areas in the provinces, usually in the strongholds of untouchable political warlords and are streamed from there.

“These are held in secret farms or private farms. You know how it is here in the Philippines, they just pay off the local police,” says one of my sources.

Some of those irritating text messages we’ve been receiving are from these e-sabong players.

Have you heard of E-SABONG ?-Still raking in billions

It may not be as big as before but it’s still very significant, my sources say.

“They are still raking in a billion a day,” says another industry expert, referring to just one operator.

Ironically, the big names behind e-sabong want this gambling activity to remain suspended so they don’t have to pay taxes and just stay below the radar, my sources say.

Have you heard of E-SABONG ?-Fintech is still part of it

And unwittingly or not, fintech platforms are still very much part of it. While gamblers can no longer watch the fights through fintech platforms like GCash for example, many of these e-sabong websites are still relying on the different fintech options to collect payments.

Our fintech giants, of course, won’t say no to it. Whether they admit it or not, these fintech platforms are raking in significant amounts of money from e-sabong – until now.

Gen. Azurin says that because of technology, the PNP is having a difficult time cracking down on these e-sabong websites.

“It should be noted that e-sabong websites hosted outside the Philippines can only be blocked, not taken down, as these sites can continue to operate via a virtual private network. The PNP is having a hard time curbing e-sabong because of the technological aspect. It’s a battle of technology,” he says.

He says they continue to work with government agencies linked to information and communications technology in tackling the e-sabong menace.

For now, hundreds of e-sabong platforms and websites have been blocked but this isn’t enough, says Azurin. These activities continue.