Philippines House Moves To Regulate Online Sabong Betting

Things are moving apace in the Philippines regarding the country’s shift to legalizing domestic online gambling.

First, as we recently reported, the popular international betting district in Manila was able to finally offer online iGaming to select customers as a response to the 2020 coronavirus economic downturn.

And while the impetus for such an allowance is obviously unfortunate, the reality that online gambling is now legal – to some degree – for the local populace has been a long time coming.

It should also serve to put the controversial specter of the country’s much-maligned (and seemingly abandoned) POGOs to rest.

But iGaming is just one part of the puzzle.

The move to legalize online gambling for Filipinos actually got started before the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, when HB 8910 received significant legislative support.

And though HB 8910 has yet to be signed into law, one of the most important aspects of it – at least in terms of making the gaming market more accessible for locals and online bettors – has been extracted and crafted into its own bill.

This piece of legislation, called HB 8065, is a measure to regulate and tax e-Sabong, or online cockfighting. Cockfighting, of course, is the beloved national sport of the Philippines.

In essence, HB 8065 is written to clarify the so-called “gray area” surrounding the emerging trend of online sabong betting. It does this by acknowledging the activity of offsite sabong betting venues (aka sabong OTBs) operating over the Internet.

But instead of criminalizing the wildly popular pastime, the law instead brings it under the oversight of national tax regulators.

The current iteration of HB 8065 would levy a five-percent tax on gross revenues generated by sabong OTBs, in addition to the other taxable activities hosted by these operators.

Thus, the law would bring clarity to the industry and make it more palatable for bettors and government officials alike.

Per House Ways and Means Committee Chair Joey Salceda:

“Because of the digital shift [to online betting], there are now electronic betting operations on such games [as sabong]. But the electronic aspect of it is a gray area, even though the airwaves [are] national property. …

Because of this ambiguity, we are unable to levy national taxes on these activities. By clarifying this gray area in my proposal, we hope to raise multiples more in revenues than the BIR [Bureau of Internal Revenue] collection from cockpits of P13.7M in 2019.”

Indeed, the new law – if passed – is projected to generate at least P1.25 billion (26 million USD) during its first year.

The Philippine House approved of the bill overwhelmingly, with a near-unanimous vote of 215-1.

So, with massive bipartisan support, the bill now heads to the Senate. Should the Senate give it the OK, HB 8065 would amend Section 125 of the National Revenue Code (1997), and e-Sabong would be federally legitimized.

As for right now, even though sports betting remains domestically unavailable in the Philippines, residents have long been able to bet on athletic events using legal offshore Philippine sportsbooks.

Ironically, of course, sabong betting is just about the only market these books can’t offer to Filipino bettors.

This isn’t because doing so would be unlawful – It’s because the nature of sabong itself is such that international bookmakers simply cannot get timely access to the events and their betting lines.

Sabong is a uniquely Philippine sport, and e-Sabong – despite the technical advances made by the best international online gambling sites in the world – will likely be a uniquely Philippine market.

We hope that the legalization and regulation of e-Sabong passes the Senate and becomes law, as this could very well give the Philippine government all the proof it needs that the further legalization of domestic online sports betting.

Source: ABS-CBN News