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Culture of Gambling in the Philippines: The #1 Guide for Expats

October 10, 2023 325 0
Culture of Gambling in the Philippines: The #1 Guide for Expats

Navigating the cultural nuances of a foreign country can be challenging, and when it comes to gambling, understanding local attitudes is crucial. For expats in the Philippines, a nation with a rich history and complex social dynamics, gambling is more than just a recreational activity. It's deeply embedded in the culture. 

History of Gambling in the Philippines

Gambling has a long history in the Philippines, dating back to pre-colonial times. Indigenous Filipino communities engaged in various forms of betting, ranging from cockfighting to games of skill. The Spanish colonial period saw the introduction of horse racing and lotteries. Today, the Philippines has a multi-faceted gambling industry regulated by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), which oversees casinos, bingo, sports betting, and online gambling platforms.

Before the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the late 16th century, indigenous Filipino communities had their own forms of gambling. Cockfighting, or sabong as it is known locally, was and still is a popular form of betting.

Another traditional game that involved wagering was “Pangoy,” a game of skill that was popular among various Filipino tribes. These games were not merely about winning or losing; they were social events that also had cultural and sometimes even religious significance.

When the Spanish colonized the Philippines, they brought with them new forms of gambling, including horse racing and lotteries. The Spanish Crown saw the lucrative opportunities in gambling and began to regulate these activities to benefit their colonial government. For example, the Spanish established the Sweepstakes Office, laying the groundwork for what would become the modern lottery in the Philippines. Horse racing also became a major event, initially for the colonial elite, but it gradually gained popularity among the masses.

After the Spanish-American War, the Philippines came under American control. This era saw the introduction of casino games like poker and blackjack, which were popular among American soldiers stationed in the archipelago. Casinos started appearing in major cities, and for the first time, the Philippines began to develop a regulatory framework for gambling.

Following Philippine independence in 1946, the nation sought to regulate gambling more systematically. The PAGCOR was established in 1977 to centralize and regulate all games of chance under a single body. PAGCOR not only runs its own casinos but also licenses other operators. It oversees everything from large-scale casinos to small bingo parlors, as well as the increasingly important sector of online gambling.

Gambling in the Philippines Today

In the 21st century, the Philippines has embraced the digital age of gambling. PAGCOR has set up a licensing system for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), which are online gambling companies that cater to markets outside the Philippines. This has turned the country into a significant player in the global online gambling industry, attracting companies and investment from around the world.

The history of gambling in the Philippines has made it more than just a leisure activity but a part of the cultural fabric. Whether it's the traditional sabong or the modern, glitzy casinos, gambling in the Philippines is a complex interplay of the old and the new, reflecting the country's rich history and diverse influences.

Social Attitudes About Gambling in the Philippines

While the Philippine government has been generally supportive of gambling as a significant revenue source, it's essential to distinguish this official stance from the various public attitudes across the archipelago. The government's openness has allowed various forms of gambling to proliferate, from the lottery and cockfighting to large-scale casinos and online betting platforms. The revenue generated from these activities funds public projects and services, making it a politically expedient endeavor for the government.

In stark contrast to Western perceptions that often stigmatize gambling as a vice, many Filipinos view it as a social activity, particularly in rural areas.

Sabong often takes place during town fiestas and is considered a community event where people come together, chat, and engage in friendly bets. The same goes for lottery draws, which often become social occasions where friends and family gather.

While gambling enjoys broad social acceptance in the Philippines, religious organizations like the Catholic Church offer a more nuanced view. The Catholic Church, which plays a significant role in the predominantly Christian nation, has frequently expressed concerns over the moral implications of gambling. These concerns range from issues of addiction and the potential to destroy families to ethical questions about benefiting from another's loss.

Given that approximately 81% of Filipinos are Catholic, the Church's stance can significantly influence public opinion.

It's fascinating to observe how these religious perspectives interact with cultural attitudes. In regions where the Catholic Church has a strong influence, you may find fewer gambling activities or a more subdued approach to them. However, in areas where the church's grip is less strong, traditional views of gambling as a social event prevail.

While the general populace may view gambling as a social and even traditional activity, there is a subset of Filipinos who consider it a moral issue. The dichotomy often lies in whether the focus is on the enjoyment of the game or the outcome, which could result in financial hardship or addiction.

This dilemma often leads to lively discussions and debates, particularly during legislative attempts to regulate or expand gambling activities.

For expats, understanding these nuanced social attitudes towards gambling is essential. Engaging in gambling activities in the Philippines without understanding the cultural and religious subtleties can be a faux pas, or worse, could lead to legal complications.

Regional Differences

In predominantly Muslim regions such as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), gambling is generally frowned upon due to Islamic teachings. Meanwhile, in major cities like Manila and Cebu, the presence of casinos and online betting companies indicates a more liberal attitude towards gambling.

Legal Landscape of Gambling in the Philippines

The legal environment for gambling in the Philippines is well-defined, thanks to the regulatory oversight of PAGCOR. Expats should be aware that while participating in government-sanctioned gambling activities is generally safe and legal.

Online Gambling: A Growing Trend

With the rise of online platforms, more Filipinos and expatriates are taking to the internet to place bets. While online gambling companies cannot operate from within the Philippines, PAGCOR licenses offshore companies to offer services to Filipinos. Expats should be cautious when selecting an online platform, ensuring it's licensed and reputable.

Understanding the cultural acceptance of gambling doesn't absolve one from the responsibility of engaging in it wisely. Initiatives like “Responsible Gaming” programs exist to educate the public about the risks associated with irresponsible gambling, such as addiction and financial strain.

Navigate Wisely: Tips for Gambling in the Philippines for Expats

For expats keen on experiencing the local gambling scene, follow these tips: 

Age Restrictions

In the Philippines, you must be at least 21 years old to enter and participate in casino gambling. For other forms of gambling, like lottery and horse racing, the minimum age is 18. These age restrictions are strictly enforced, and identification is required to enter most gambling establishments.

Identification Requirements

As a general rule, you'll need to present valid identification to participate in regulated gambling activities. For locals, this often means showing a government-issued ID, such as a driver's license or passport. For expatriates, a passport is usually required. In some online settings, additional verification may be required, such as utility bills or bank statements, to confirm residence and identity.

Sensitivity to Cultural Context

In rural locales, gambling activities like cockfighting and small-scale lottery games often serve as community events. Here, your participation is not just a private affair but something that involves the community. Therefore, understanding local norms and attitudes toward gambling is crucial. For example, being overtly competitive or flashy about winnings might be considered poor taste.

In regions with a strong religious influence—be it Catholic or Muslim—it's essential to understand the prevailing attitudes toward gambling. In predominantly Catholic areas, while gambling may be socially accepted, there could be underlying reservations due to the Church's stance on it. In Muslim areas, like the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), gambling is generally frowned upon and could even be illegal.

Practice Responsible Engagement

To ensure a safe and legal gambling experience, always seek out licensed and regulated venues. This applies to both physical establishments like casinos and online platforms. In the Philippines, any legitimate gambling operation will be regulated by the PAGCOR or the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) for online platforms catering to foreign players.

Being a responsible gambler goes beyond just adhering to legal requirements. It also involves setting personal limits on how much you're willing to spend and being mindful of the time spent gambling. Many establishments offer self-exclusion options and have support systems for individuals who feel they may have a gambling problem.

Take the Next Step to Gambling in the Philippines: Wager Mindfully

Gambling in the Philippines offers a unique blend of cultural history and modern entertainment. Expatriates who are keen on participating should take the time to understand both the legal and cultural landscape. Being informed and respectful can turn your gambling experience into an enriching part of your life abroad rather than a risky gamble.

By understanding the cultural attitudes towards gambling in the Philippines, expats can more fully immerse themselves in the local culture while navigating the complexities that come with it.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to promote gambling but aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the cultural attitudes towards gambling in the Philippines. Always engage in gambling responsibly and consult local laws and regulations.

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