Sabong: A Billion-Dollar National Obsession in the Philippines
As the pandemic left many governments cash-strapped, politicians are looking for more ways to generate the much needed funds to keep things running. In the Philippines, lawmakers have zeroed-in on electronic sabong (e-sabong) or electronic cockfights.
At the House of Representatives, Congressman Joey Salceda introduced the E-Sabong Bill or House Bill 8065, which aims to levy a 5 percent tax on electronic cockfights in the country, which are typically streamed over the Internet through betting platforms.
The Philippines is one of the few countries in the world where cockfights are legal.
During the plenary hearing on the bill, Salceda defended it, saying it could be a way to increase government funds for its COVID-19 response.
“While the government seeks new revenue streams to fund its COVID-19 priorities, this bill responds to this government need by imposing new national government taxes on activities that already exist and will undoubtedly continue to exist as digital technologies grow more sophisticated, but are not being imposed such taxes,” said Joey Salceda, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a sponsor of the bill.
Sabong: A Billion-Dollar Industry
According to the Games and Amusements Board, the sabong industry in the country is worth P50 billion annually. Jarius Bondoc of the Philippine Star claims the industry earns P1.5 billion a day.
But it is largely untaxed.
Although e-sabong has been around for a decade, the government has yet to catch up by regulating and taxing it. But as the pandemic closed thousands of cockpits around the country, e-sabong became even more popular in the impoverished country.
According to Salceda, who hails from the province of Albay—where cockfights are as common as breakfast, lunch, and dinner—betting on e-sabong exists in a gray area of the law. His bill seeks to rectify that.
If passed into law, the Bureau of Immigration, which collects a measly sum of P13 million annually from cockpits, will be able to collect P1.25 billion annually from e-sabong operators. Salceda says the bill proposes five percent of gross revenues derived from offsite betting activities on locally licensed games.
“The principle is simple. The industry used to be in a gray area. Now, we can shed light on it. The industry used to be untaxed. Now, we will tax it. And, as a non-essential economic activity, this proposal will be one of the few rare opportunities to create a painless revenue stream for our economic recovery,” said Salceda.