Posted on: March 3, 2022, 05:11h.
Last updated on: March 3, 2022, 05:11h.
Calls are growing in the Philippine legislature to suspend the newly regulated and taxed online cockfight-betting market amid the mysterious disappearance of 31 people connected to the industry.
PhilStar Global reports that 23 senators have demanded that the country’s gaming regulator, PAGCOR, suspend the recently issued licenses of the market’s seven legal operators. That’s pending an investigation into the missing men.
President Rodrigo Duterte has also given his blessing to the proposed suspension.
All 31 disappeared without a trace between April 2021 and January 2022 this year. According to The Philippine Daily Inquirer, they include industry game fowl handlers, aides, helpers, and vehicle drivers.
All are suspected of being bout fixers, who sabotage the performance of a fighting cock so they can bet on its opponent.
No ransoms have been demanded and no bodies have been found. But Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who led a Senate inquiry into the matter last week, said he believes the men are probably dead, although he offered no evidence to support this.
All men are believed to have visited to have visited cockpits owned by PAGCOR licensee Lucky 8 Star Quest.
Cockfighting is ingrained into the culture of the Philippines, where it dates back hundreds of years and is estimated to be a $1 billion-a-year industry.
The online version, known as e-sabong, allows users to wager on live-streamed bouts. It exploded in popularity during the pandemic, when public gatherings at cockpits were prohibited for health and safety reasons.
The Philippine legislature passed a bill to tax and regulate e-sabong in November 2020. PAGCOR began issuing licenses in May 2021.
But there has been a backlash against the industry led by the Church in the predominantly Catholic country. Concerns are related to the expansion of gambling and associated social ills. Animal cruelty does not appear to enter into the moral equation.
Philippine nationals are prohibited from engaging in other forms of online gambling, although PAGCOR licenses operators that target customers in other countries.
Who is Atong Ang?
Lucky 8 Star Quest is owned by Charlie “Atong” Ang, an infamous gambling operator in the Philippines. Ang was a close associate of former Philippine President Joseph Estrada, who was impeached in 2000 for corruption and for plundering millions from government coffers.
At the time Ang ran jueteng, a grassroots numbers game in the Philippines, popular but illegal.
Estrada was taking kickbacks from several jueteng operators he called friends, one of whom exposed the corrupt arrangement after a falling out.
After he was also indicted on plunder charges, Ang fled the Philippines. In 2001, he was arrested in Las Vegas while gambling at Paris, extradited home, and served time in prison.
Recently, he was seen on YouTube, ranting and threatening “double agents” whom he accused of stealing videos of Lucky 8 Star Quest bouts and posting them on illegal copycat websites.
He has agreed to attend a hearing of the Senate inquiry into the disappearances.