EXPLAINER: Cebu City Council allows 2 cockpits to reopen for e-sabong. Almost-3-hour hearing raises concerns on Covid, youth exposure to gambling, no income for City.

·5 min read

AFTER more than a year and a half of pandemic-induced shutdown, two cockpits in Cebu City have applied, and were granted the right, to reopen for E-Sabong or electronic cockfight gambling.

It took two hours and 47 minutes before the Cebu City Council voted Wednesday, August 18, to express no objection to the use of the said two cockpits -- Grand Tejero Arena along M.J. Cuenco Ave. and another in Barangay Agsungot -- for online betting.

With the approval by a vote of 10-1 with at least three abstentions, it doesn't mean the live cockfights from Cebu will be seen on the internet anytime soon.

As Majority Leader Raymond Alvin Garcia, chairman of the city's Gamefowl Commission, pointed out, cockpit owners still have to meet City Hall business requirements, including the conditions set by the Emergency Operations Center on ant-Covid-19 protocols.

Besides the resolution, sponsored by Councilor Phillip Zafra, carries the condition that it is subject to the community quarantine classification of the City, meaning that the cockpit stays closed if the CQ protocol doesn't allow it.

IT WAS NOT MADE CLEAR if the two cockpits could operate only for the E-Sabong purpose, that is, to hold cockfights for the live video feed to the online-betting brand.

Nobody ascertained whether, with or without the livestreaming, it can operate as a cockpit, subject of course to anti-Covid health protocols. Was the go-signal for E-Sabong live cockfights also an approval for any other cockfight it would hold?

Would the Sanggunian approval enable the two cockpits to operate full-time as on-site gambling places, not just live video content provider for E-Sabong?

WHAT THEY DIDN'T GET AT ONCE. For some time, some councilors seemed to be just stretching the discussion. Or they didn't grasp these facts quickly:

[1] The City Council is not the authority to license or regulate the operation of E-Sabong. Its authority is over the cockpit that feeds live video feed of the cockfight to the online-betting operator. The local legislature's role is merely to express its objection or lack of objection, a requirement before Pagcor will act on the E-Sabong application.

The Pagcor website defines E-Sabong as the "online/remote or offsite wagering or betting on live cockfighting matches, events or activities streamed or broadcasted from cockpit arenas licensed or authorized by the local government unit having jurisdiction thereof."

Pagcor thus recognizes the authority of the LGU concerned, over the cockpit, not the E-Sabong.

[2] If the Sanggunian opposes the E-Sabong or withholds approval of it, it merely means no online betting firm can use any cockpit in the City for its live broadcast. After all, City Hall controls licensing of businesses in the city and its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) enforces quarantine rules.

[3] The E-Sabong firm, however, can still run its gambling operation on the internet by using cockfights in other cities or provinces.

This was used as argument for giving the go-signal, saying the economic benefits would go instead to other cockpits across the country.

As of last June, four firms are licensed by Pagcor to operate E-Sabong: E Sports Encuentro Live Corp. with the brand Encuentro Live!; Visayas Cockers Club Inc., with Sabong International PH; Bong Pineda's Belvedere Vista Corp., with Sabong Express; and Charlie "Atong" Ang's Lucky Eight Star Quest Inc. with Pitmasters Live.

EXPOSURE OF YOUTH. That distinction between City Hall control over local cockpits and Sanggunian say on E-Sabong is crucial also to understanding the bad influence of gambling on the youth.

Councilors Lea Japzon and Eugenio Gabuya Jr. worried over how regulations that ban minors from gambling are enforced. Gabuya wanted data on the ill effects of electronic gambling, which has operated, according to a resource person at the public hearing, for three or four years already but is "seriously being regulated only this year."

But even with no live feed of cockfights yet from Cebu, the E-Sabong firms already offer live cockfights from other places in the country on which gamblers can bet online. Even now, minors are already exposed to internet gambling even with all the city cockpits shut down since the outbreak of the pandemic.

REASONS FOR VOTE. The 10 councilors who voted for the reopening of two cockpits for E-Sabong adopted the majority's argument that reopening the two cockpits -- and others that may apply -- will help "hundreds" of people that depend on the industry for a living.

They were Councilors Garcia and Zafra, Joel Garganera, Joy Augustus Young, Dave Tumulak, Raul Alcoseba, James Anthony Cuenco, Renato Osmeña Jr., Edu Rama and Niña Mabatid.

Councilor Alvin Dizon voted against because, he said, he believes it would hurt public interest and welfare, given the continuing threat on public health. Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. and Councilor Gabuya abstained without giving a reason. Councilor Jerry Guardo also abstained for "for religious reasons."

NO ADDITIONAL REVENUE for the City from the operation of E-Sabong, that was made clear to the councilors. Pagcor collects from the online betting operators and from the cockpits.

Councilor Gabuya wanted to withhold its approval until Pagcor would raise its annual contribution to City Hall coffers while Councilor Osmeña suggested they approve it now to induce Pagcor to give more funds. Both councilors didn't consider that Pagcor income also plummeted because of the pandemic.

Councilor Garcia said they may amend the tax ordinance instead of asking from Pagcor, which often ignores the request.

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