Two gamecocks locked in battle.
Garwin Davis, Staff Reporter
THE bloody and gruesome sport of cock-fighting, though illegal, has turned into a thriving multimillion dollar gambling industry here.
But the organised battle between trained roosters has been going undetected for years, escaping Government sanctions.
The brazenness on the part of the people running the business, including promoters, those who breed the roosters for fighting, and gamblers, have incurred the wrath of the Betting, Gaming and Lottery Commis-sion which is vowing to crack down on cock-fighting activities across the island.
A senior official at the commission, who requested anonymity, told The Sunday Gleaner on Friday said that his agency was aware of the illegal cock-fighting taking place in makeshift arenas across the island.
"There is an enforcement division in our agency that deals with these sort of things," he said. "Illegal cock-fighting is a violation of the Betting, Gaming and Lottery Act which stipulates that all gambling activities in the country must be regulated and approved by Government. Offenders can be subjected to criminal prosecution which could lead to hefty fines or jail sentences."
But according to several gamecock breeders, the authorities, including the police, are fully aware of their activities and have always turned a blind eye.
"Police officers themselves are involved in the sport as gamecock owners," explained Percival Fray, a breeder from Old Harbour. "This is big time stuff that attracts a lot of people. Everybody knows what is happening and are freely involved in the activities."
Mr. Fray said that a gamecock which has never fought could fetch a price of $5,000 with the price rising to as high as $15,000 if the cock turns out to be a good fighter. He added that he has been a breeder for more than 50 years and has developed a knack for identifying what he called good thoroughbreds (which) ...will stay there and fight to the death if necessary and not one that will be running away."
Mr. Fray said that because cock-fighting has become such a big business, he is always in demand from gamblers and promoters for good gamecocks.
"People gamble up to $200,000 on a fight," he said. "The arena is always sold out on Sundays (the designated day for the fights) with people coming far and wide to enjoy. This is better than horse-racing. In racing you don't know if the jockey will be trying to win the race, but you can be certain that the cocks are trying to win at all cost."
The season for cock-fighting, The Sunday Gleaner was told, lasts between December and June, with the other months reserved for breeding purposes. Popular cock-fighting locations are on Red Hills Road in St. Andrew, in Linstead and Spanish Town, St. Catherine, in Mary, Hanover, Trelawny, and in Ocho Rios, St. Ann. The biggest and most popular location is said to be in Sandy Bay, Clarendon.
A Sunday Gleaner reporter last week attended a cock-fight in Ocho Rios which had a packed audience, including many young children.
The business works this way: A gamecock owner pays a fight fee to the promoter, ($500 The Sunday Gleaner was told), allowing his rooster to duel another in a ring. As in horse-racing, bettors are allowed to stake wagers prior to the start of the fight with either the promoter or the gamecock owner.
A huge roar usually accompanies the start of each fight. Sometimes the fights can be brutally swift, especially if a rooster can cut its opponent in the head with its razor sharp spurs. That usually means instant death.
In most cases, however, the fights can be long, intense and extremely gruesome with the loser often suffering a slow and painful death. Sometimes the owner, sensing his charge is beaten, makes a concession and pulls his gamecock from the fight.
Many owners, though, especially after being prompted by fanatic backers, allow their gamecocks to fight to the end. Even the winners do not always escape unscathed as, after each fight, they are often seen dragging around and groaning. But the gamecocks' suffering rarely dampens enthusiasm for cock-fighting.
"This is the best sport in Jamaica," a gambler explained. "It is something that grows on you. No other sport offers this kind of excitement."
The Betting, Gaming and Lottery Commission said that it is up to the Government to decide if it wants to regulate gamecock fights, but noted that until it happens, the commission was on a mission to clamp down on the illegal operations.