June 23, 2015 / 10:17 AM / in 3 years

Wagers at funerals help defray death expenses in the Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) - When paying your final respects to a relative or friend, the last thing you might expect to see at the wake is people placing bets on a card game or bingo. Not in the Philippines.

A gambler shows coins used in a local illegal game called "Kara Y Kruz" in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines February 21, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Filipinos, like many Asians, love their gambling.

But making wagers at games such as “sakla”, the Philippine version of Spanish tarot cards, is particularly common at wakes, because the family of the deceased gets a share of the winnings to help cover funeral expenses.

“It has its functions, it is a way of keeping mourners around,” said Randolf “Randy” David, a sociology professor at the University of the Philippines, adding that small syndicates often operate such games, moving from one wake to another.

In Manila streets and back alleys, dozens of men huddle together to stare at bulky, older televisions at an off-track betting station for horse racing, or the Basque hard-rubber ball game of jai-alai.

Here, wagers of as little as two pesos (2 pence) can earn thousands.

Kristo, a bet caller, shouts at gamblers at a cockfighting arena in Angeles city, north of Manila, Philippines, March 11, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Philippine men and women also like to bet on a hugely popular, illegal numbers game called jueteng, with collectors going around villages and markets to gather wagers as small as one peso, returning a few hours later to pay winners.

Jueteng played a big part in the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada in 2001, when he was accused of taking kickbacks and allowing operations of gambling syndicates.

In a country where two-fifths of the population lives on less than $2 a day, one game that cuts across economic classes is cockfighting.

Most weekends traffic slows to a stop near cock-fighting arenas in provinces and Manila. The mix of spectators is visible even outside the arena, where luxury cars are parked beside rundown vehicles, motorcycles and motorbike taxis.

Carmelo Lazatin, 80, a former congressman from the northern province of Pampanga, owns about 800 fighting cocks and a cock-fighting ring.

Cockfighting is a national pastime, he says, that survives because the games run just a few hours and people do not lose their heads over the sport.

“Some people commit suicide because of casinos,” he said. “There’s none of that in cockfighting.”

Financiers who lend cash at high interest to casino players say they are often stuck with dozens of cars and wads of land titles used as collateral by borrowers who just can’t stop gambling.

Writing by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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