Gambling is very big in the Philippines. "Gambling is not a sin," a government official said. "Even priests and nuns come to the casinos asking for jobs for their parishioners." Gambling in the Philippines is generally restricted by government laws. Illegal forms of gambling include jueteng, masiao and last two. There are no laws prohibiting online gambling in particular, therefore legal. The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation is a government-run agency that controls legal gambling and runs casinos and other gambling ventures. Charity sweepstakes and lotteries are also managed by the government through the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Alecks P. Pabico of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism wrote: “Are Filipinos natural-born gamblers? Marvin Castell and Joel Tanchuco, economics professors at the De La Salle University, posed this question in a paper they wrote in 2004 on what they described as a “habitual and pervasive social activity” among Pinoys. “From the humblest barrios to the most affluent villages, Filipinos are into gambling,” they observed, citing the abundance of casinos, lotto and bingo outlets, municipal cockpit arenas, card games and “cara y cruz” on city streets, and bookies that go house to house for the illegal numbers game called jueteng. [Source: Alecks P. Pabico. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, February 3, 2008]

A recent UCLA study does suggest that gambling has its roots in traditional Asian culture. The Chinese, in particular, are said to hold strong beliefs in luck, fate, and chance — concepts that many Filipinos, given China’s strong historical influence in the Philippines, also live by, and thus explain their gambling ways. Back in 1999, findings of the Social Weather Stations survey also showed that Filipinos’ moral attitudes against gambling hardly influence their gambling behavior. There were as many people (63 percent) who said gambling was bad even for small bets and when done only for a short time as those (64 percent) who admitted engaging in a gambling activity in the past 12 months. Many would however justify gambling as just a form of recreation, a “harmless” pastime, as if the amounts they’ve already lost to wagering haven’t already cost them a fortune. Such hard-earned money, Castell and Tanchuco said, should have gone to more productive pursuits like savings.

Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada is said to have played million dollar mahjong games and was linked with gangster and drug traffickers. A 1996 security video tape from a casino showed Estrada gambling and serving coffee to a well known gangster. When he was president he cut deals during all night majong games with his “midnight cabinet” cronies, which included some of Marcos’s cronies, gangsters and people involved in gambling and smuggling and other illicit trades.

Gambling Games

Illegal forms of gambling include jueteng, masiao and last two. “Jueteng” is a very popular illegal numbers game called. When Joseph Estrada was president profits from the game were reputedly delivered to the presidential palace and news of this got the ball rolling for his ultimate ouster.

Wetting is a popular gambling game. Gamblers bet on two out of 36 numbers on little chips in bottle. People bet small amounts of money up to three times a day. When Joseph Estrada was president money from the game was controlled by operators who funneled money up to Estrada.

Bingo in the Philippines

Bingo is very big in the Philippines. It is played in Megamalls and community centers across the country. Airlines and restaurants offer their verison of the game to win customers. Some restaurants give customers cards and a stamp after every meal. If they make a bingo on their card with the stamps they get a free meal. In 1999, government-authorized games pulled in 500 million pesos.

A typical bingo player in the Philippines heads to a game hall at a large mall a couple times a week and wagers between $5 and $10 hoping that randomly selected numbers will match up with the numbers on his her card, and hoping to hit the jackpot.

In the late 1990s, on-line bingo games such as Bingo Pilipino became all the rage. Game cards were sold by agent using terminals that randomly printed five rows of five numbers on thermal paper. Players compared their cards with the winning pattern result at terminals, in newspapers or by watching the live television broadcast with machine that picked Ping-Pong-size ball numbered from 1 to 75. The daily jackpot was 1 million pesos.

Pilipino Bingo was owned by a company called BW Resources. President Estrada was accused of profiting from trading stock for BW Resources, which shot up 5,000 percent and dropped just a quickly and triggered the Philippines’ largest stock scandal ever and almost caused the closure or the Philippines stock market.


Jueteng (pronounced hwe-teng) is an illegal numbers game played in the Philippines. According to Kubrador of Bet Collector: “ Jueteng originated from China and means "flower" (jue) and "bet" (teng). Although illegal, it is a widely popular game with participation that crosses most, if not all social and economic boundaries, played by rich and poor alike. With long odds and no limits on minimum or maximum bets, the lure of quick riches through a lucrative payout is by far its strongest appeal. [Source: Kubrador - Bet Collector, Facebook]

The game relies heavily on having a large number of wagers, and there is no limit to the amount of the bet(s). Usually the gambler selects two numbers from 1 through 37, and the winning number is determined by selecting a pair of numbers from two sets of 37 numbered balls. Thus the theoretical odds of winning on any one play are one in 37 X 37 or 1/1369 with payout of 1:800. This is unlike the numbers games in the U.S. during the early part of the 20th century, where the last digit of the winning pay out or the number of the winning horse for three consecutive races determined the winning combination.

Although much has been done to curtail or eradicate this form of unregulated gambling by government and community leaders, it appears that such efforts have fallen by the wayside due to its vast popularity, and the poverty which cripples the country. Ironically, in the 80s, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) once sanctioned and operated a similar game, called "Small Town Lottery," which spawned the popularity of the game.

Jueteng Corruption

In 2013, the Philippines Daily Mirror reported: “Jueteng, an illegal numbers game, is a poor man’s lottery. But the people behind it are far from being poor. It involves billions of pesos. There is talk that transactions or bets in jueteng are mostly done in smaller denominations or in coins, but the collections produce numerous sacks of coins. The Small Town Lottery, which was created in 2005 purportedly to stamp out jueteng, reported that in Pampanga province alone, it was able to gross P2.5 billion ($60.975 million) in the seven years of its existence, according to an report in 2012. [Source: Philippines Daily Mirror, January 18, 2013 /]

“Jueteng payoffs are big enough to prop up or cause the downfall of a president. Remember that the expose’ that the Estrada family was receiving jueteng payoffs caused the downfall of the administration of Joseph Estrada. Early into the Aquino administration, Bp. Oscar Cruz, a known crusader against jueteng, revealed that after the Arroyo administration relinquished power to the Aquino government, the jueteng payoffs allegedly went to then Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno and then police chief police chief Jesus Verzosa. President Benigno Aquino III merely brushed off the accusations against Puno, his buddy and fellow gun enthusiast.” /

Jueteng Rubout?

In 2013, in Atimonan, Quezon, alleged jueteng lord Vic Siman and 12 others, including three policemen and three soldiers, were murdered in an apparent assassination or organized crime rubout. The Philippines Daily Mirror reported: “First reported as a legitimate encounter, the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) own investigation revealed the more likelihood of an ambush that was made to appear like a shootout. Police investigators had doubts about the positioning of the bodies and firearms. To the investigators, it looks as if the bodies and firearms were arranged to make it appear as a shootout. If indeed it was a rubout, what was the reason behind it? What were the motives and objectives of the combined police and military team headed by no less than the deputy intelligence chief of the Calabarzon police? [Source: Philippines Daily Mirror, January 18, 2013 /]

“Two former informants, who were part of the Siman group, were interviewed by TV 5 and in separate occasions, and their stories jibed with each other. They said the killings were the result of a turf war regarding jueteng operations in Laguna. reported that Supt. Hansel Marantan, the deputy intelligence chief of the Calabarzon police, who was in command of the checkpoint and the operation dubbed as case operation plan [Coplan] Armado, has a sister Selena “Tita” Marantan-Dinglasan, who controls jueteng operations in Calamba, Sta. Rosa, Binan, and San Pedro in Laguna. Apparently, the killings were done to eliminate Siman, the bitter rival of Marantan-Dinglasan over control of jueteng operations in the province. /

“This theory was bolstered when police investigators complained that Marantan refused to cooperate in the investigation. Worse, after the killings, another Siman aide Fernando Pandoy Morales was killed just outside his home by 20 policemen who were supposed to arrest him. The fact that policemen and soldiers are involved in this deadly turf war against rival gambling lords is worrisome enough. But there seems to be something more to this. Even the National Bureau of Investigation is wondering how and why the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) was involved in a police operation such as Coplan Armado. /

“Also, according to a January 16 report, Chief Superintendent James Melad, Region 4-A (Calabarzon) police director, told reporters that Coplan Armado was submitted to the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission for funding and approval. According to Melad, the requested funding was not given but the operation was approved by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), which is being chaired by no less than Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.. /

So if the ISAFP and the PAOCC were involved, who is behind the operations? At the minimum, if it was indeed a rubout resulting from a jueteng turf war involving Marantan and his sister against the Siman group, how was Marantan able to fool the ISAFP and PAOCC into getting involved in the operation? Considering that the ISAFP and the PAOCC are no fools and that they are supposedly diligent in doing their homework before approving a bloody operation, what is the extent of their involvement and who ordered them to do so? Who is the brains behind all this and who is the ultimate beneficiary? Jueteng is here to stay and turf wars like what happened in the January 6 Atimonan rubout would continue to happen because the government does not seem serious in stamping out this illegal numbers game. The question is who benefits from it at the national level and how high up the ladder of power do the tentacles of jueteng reach?” /

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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