PAGCOR, eSabong, Philippines

Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR) Chair Andrea Domingo has said the suspension of online cockfighting (eSabong) before a probe looking into the disappearance of some 34 people connected with the sport has ended will make the regulator vulnerable to legal action.

On Feb. 28, 23 Philippines senators called on PAGCOR to suspend the licenses of those offering the wildly popular online sabong until the investigation has been concluded. As of Friday, the number of missing people had risen to 34, with local media reports suggesting there may be some connection with match fixing.

PAGCOR Andrea Domingo speaking during the Senate Public Order and Dangerous Drugs’ investigation said that contrary to reports, President Duterte had not said he backed suspension of the licenses.

“Although we do respect the resolution from 24 (sic) senators for us to suspend immediately eSabong operations, we stand at the peril of having to pay P640-million while we suspend (the operations) without clear and legal basis,” Domingo was cited as saying in local media.

“We have to look into the repercussions. In the final analysis, it would be PAGCOR who would be responsible for the final decision,” she added.

“We would like to inform this honorable body that we did not go to ‘eSabong’ without careful and completed staff work with which we are also required to perform under a mandate from the Office of the President,” she said.

Other senators pushed back against Domingo’s claim that she needed the authority of the president to suspend the licenses.

The first eSabong licenses were granted in May last year and have proved highly lucrative for PAGCOR.

Revenue from online gaming in 2021 jumped more than 27 percent to PHP16.45 billion. Online sabong boosted PAGCOR’s coffers by PHP3.7 billion, outstripping the contribution from electronic games, which was PHP2.99 billion in 2021. 

PAGCOR introduced eSabong in part to control rampant illegal gambling and to raise further revenue for the government’s cash-strapped coffers due to Covid.