IT is shocking and incomprehensible that government officials are considering resurrecting e-sabong. The Manila Times on August 30 reported that Quezon City Third District Rep. Franz Pumaren had inquired from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) if and when e-sabong operations would resume as he said that some of his constituents — supporters? — were operators who "are paying rent right now, they're incurring expenses." Alejandro Tengco, Pagcor chairman and CEO, in response, said, "We will have to make a decision very soon." Pagcor is set to submit its recommendations to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Mr. President, please do not allow e-sabong to resume. While vice pays for its freedom through the share given to the government, to borrow from Dr. Jose Rizal, it has been established beyond any reasonable doubt that what the government earns from e-sabong cannot justify the social cost. The government itself, through a survey conducted by the Department of the Interior and Local Government last April, verified the undesirable impact of e-sabong addiction.

E-sabong was consequently abruptly suspended by President Rodrigo Duterte on May 3, six days before election day and more than two months after the Senate started its inquiry into the abduction of dozens of e-sabong agents. We know that money from e-sabong had benefited some candidates and this could explain why it was only stopped so close to election day.

Charlie "Atong" Ang who operated Pitmasters Live, is said to have generated bets totaling about P2 billion a day, or P60 billion a month, with up to 95 percent going to the winners, and the rest — P3 billion a month — for operational expenses and profit. Pagcor, on the other hand, received P400 to P600 million a month from all e-sabong operations, including those from Ang's competitors.

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A "lucrative and deadly betting craze" is what Jacob Smith calls e-sabong. In this July 29, 2022 article published on www.casino.org, Smith writes that e-sabong "came at an enormous cost to the country's citizens." He goes on: "At the height of the e-sabong craze, levels of crime rose drastically, with all members of society — including police officers — looking for means of paying off their rapidly accumulating debts. Robberies, abductions and even suspected murders were all reported as occurring because of the widespread addiction to e-sabong."

I thought Smith's observations were exaggerated. But the reality could actually be worse. Consider the case of e-sabong master agent Ricardo Lasco who was abducted from his home in San Pablo City a year ago, never to be seen again. Policemen assigned with the Laguna provincial intelligence branch used a fake warrant of arrest to pick up Lasco. They pretended to be agents of the National Bureau of Investigation. They searched the premises and took cash and valuables worth almost P700,000. The provincial director of the Laguna PNP was found to have received P1 million from Ang, though the police officer claimed the money was for a camp improvement project. Ang's Pitmaster Foundation Inc., incidentally, has reportedly spent almost P1 billion on various charity projects.

Ang has denied any involvement in the abduction of Lasco and other sabongeros. They all remain missing to this day and are most likely dead. While authorities have promised again and again that they will get to the bottom of this, talking about reviving e-sabong while the people responsible for the abductions haven't been brought to justice leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Ang has blamed his competitors for conspiring against him. He claimed to control about 90 percent of the e-sabong betting market. Ang is no stranger to dealing with greedy officials. The money involved in gambling — legal as well as illegal — is what makes it worth killing for, a risky business even when legal.

Government tolerates vice when it earns from it. E-sabong was seen as an easy moneymaker, but later it became clear that the social impact was not worth the revenues. Even if the government operated e-sabong with no private profit-taking, the social cost of e-sabong would be too high. Ang, in an interview with Philippine Star columnist Iris Gonzales (May 30, 2022) pointed out that it won't make a poor man poorer to lose a few thousand pesos. E-sabong, in his opinion, gives the poor the chance to make their lives a bit better for as little as P100. The fact is that there are 20 million Filipinos who earn less than P80 a day, or P2,400 a month. So encouraging people to gamble with the little money that they have is insensitive, if not reckless. It should definitely not be state policy. However, unfortunately, Ang is right in the sense that to millions of economically challenged Filipinos, the odds of improving their lot in life through gambling are higher than through so-called honest work or relying on government.