House Bill 8910 – Bill To Eliminate Illegal e-Sabong, Strengthen GAB

On February 21, 2019, Philippines House Bill 8910 was unanimously approved for a third and final reading in the PH congress. The bill would strengthen the GAB (Games and Amusements Board), which handles the licensing and oversight of all professional sports in the nation.

The new agency would work in tandem with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), but its duties would lie more on the judicial and legislative side, while PAGCOR is the nation’s primary gambling operator.

While the bill covers many avenues and serves to create an overarching gambling oversight body, one of the most controversial aspects of the legislation is its commitment to ban illegal e-sabong, or online cockfighting. This would be done by strengthening cockfighting regulations, clamping down on illegal cockpit operations, and setting into motion a series of rules and regulations about who can run such rings, how much they must disburse to the government in taxes, and how many venues can be accessible to Filipinos (based on municipal population size).

Still, though the bill has far-reaching implications across the world of sport in the Philippines, the main point of interest remains the country’s most interesting national pastime. Thanks to the Internet, e-sabong is widespread, and the government is looking for a way to contain it.

While HB 8910 would not ban e-sabong outright, it would totally bar it in its current form. The GAB may seek to approve regulated online sabong in the future, however, as the bill allows for that potentiality. For further details on this proposed law, we cover it in depth below.

Details Of Philippines HB 8910

HB 8910 is a merger or consolidation of two separate bills:

  • HB 4843 – “AN ACT STRENGTHENING THE GAMES AND AMUSEMENTS BOARD AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES”
  • HB 6983 – “AN ACT STRENGTHENING THE ROLE OF THE GAMES AND AMUSEMENTS BOARD IN THE OPERATION OF COCKFIGHTING IN THE PHILIPPINES, AMENDING THE COCKFIGHTING LAW OF 1974 AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES”

Representative Rodel Batocabe (deceased) and Winston Castelo sponsored HB 4843, while Representative Joseph Bernos sponsored HB 6983. Based on the reported thrust of HB 8910, it seems that the bulk of the law derives from HB 4843, but that most people are interested in the cockfighting aspect per HB 6983. You can read the official summary of HB 8910 here.

The proposal has unified multipartisan support, and it covers a series of gambling reforms and regulatory realignments. In total, the law – if passed – would implement the following (though this is not a comprehensive list):

  • Expand the role of the GAB, which will be comprised of a chairman and two commissioners (presidentially appointed)
  • Give rule-making power to the GAB
  • Give judicial power to the GAB
  • Supervise and regulate all professional sports
  • License all sports leagues, athletes, officials, and related individuals
  • Collect taxes of 25% for gate receipts at sporting events and three percent for gambling operators
  • Enforcement of pre- and post-fight boxing/MMA medical tests
  • Mandatory combat sports rest periods between fights
  • Establishment of the Athlete’s Welfare Fund for athletes that are critically injured or die in competition (one percent of all receipts/taxes paid to GAB)
  • Regulate horse racing and OTB terminals
  • Promulgate rules/regulations for cockfighting operation and conduct
  • Bar unlawful e-sabong and potentially regulate online sabong
  • Regulate jai alai events and betting
  • Creation of the Anti-Illegal Gambling Unit

These are the broad strokes. Chapter VI, Section 54 also gives the GAB oversight over non-gambling amusements. Per the text:

Setting Up of a One-Stop Shop – The GAB shall set up a one-stop shop for the issuance of licenses or permits for the conduct of international amusement events or productions, such as concerts, theatrical plays, circus acts, among others, in coordination with the Bureau of Immigration, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Tourism, and other governmental agencies concerned.”

HB 8910 And e-Sabong

HB 8910 has a lot to say about cockfighting in general and e-sabong in particular. The basic outline of the new proposals is as follows, giving the GAB the power to:

  • Enforce rules/regulations for the holding of cockfighting operations
  • Establish a set of guidelines and rules for cockfighting, including accreditation of cockpit owners, managers, and employees
  • Register all fighting cocks (gamecocks)
  • Prevent and investigate the theft of gamecocks
  • Supervise international sabong derbies and fee collection thereof
  • Regulate all livestreaming, broadcasting, or other forms of cockfighting transmission
  • Establish and regulate Off-Cockpit Betting Stations (OCBS)
  • Limit OCBS facilities to in-person wagering pending the approval of e-sabong betting
  • Collect three percent of all gross sabong bets
  • Regulate fighting cock importation
  • Limit ownership of cockpits to Filipino citizens
  • Limit cockpits to one per city/municipality, or two for cities with more than 100,000 residents
  • Ban cockfighting on national holidays such as Rizal Day (December 30), Philippine Independence Day (June 12), National Heroes Day (November 30), Holy Thursday, Good Friday, election/referendum days, and election registration days
  • Bar all other gambling during cockfights
  • Bar weapons and other prohibited items from cockfighting audiences
  • Investigate all violations of the above

While the proposed law does not outright ban the concept of e-sabong, it does ban the current underground nature of online cockfighting betting. Whether or not e-sabong itself becomes a regulated pastime in the Philippines is up for debate, as HB 8910 does not actually authorize the events themselves. It merely gives the GAB the authority to do so in the future if it wishes.

How Does House Bill 8910 Impact Casino Gambling In The Philippines?

While HB 8910 will impact gambling in the islands, it should have no real impact on brick-and-mortar casinos there, nor does it allow PH residents to gamble online at POGOs. Additionally, the law does not bar the use of legal offshore betting sites for Philippine residents. For most gamblers, the result of the law – if passed – will be hardly noticeable.

However, fans of the many illegal cockpits in the islands may see a slow impact from the passage of HB 8910. The legislation is unlikely to stop underground sabong, but it will make accessing legal cockpits easier and more straightforward, and it will have procedural protections for both bettors and operators.

Does HB 8910 Change Philippines Online Gambling Laws?

Yes, but only insofar as its potential to legalize regulated e-sabong. The bill does not address other forms of online gambling, nor does it propose legalizing online casinos for PH residents.

If you wish to sign up with a reputable offshore casino, you will still be able to do so safely and legally, provided you use one of the vetted operators listed here. While these outlets do not offer betting on sabong traditionally, they do allow for betting on a wide scope of local and international fare, like PBA basketball, NBA basketball, soccer, MMA, boxing, hockey, American football, baseball, and more.

Filipinos can also use these sites to legally enjoy real money games of blackjack, poker, roulette, craps, keno, baccarat, mini-baccarat, slots, and specialty titles. Since PH natives cannot access POGOs, these offshore casino sites are the best ways to enjoy the full gamut of gambling over the Internet.

Summary Of HB 8910

In short, HB 8910 is best viewed as a regulatory gambling reform bill, taking some of the judicial and oversight onus off of PAGCOR, which is the chief gambling operator in the nation.

With the exception of e-sabong and various general cockfighting rules and regulations, there is nothing fundamentally new about the bill that will change the face of gambling in the Philippines.