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Gambling Among the Dead in the Philippines

Gambling and funerals might seem an unlikely match, but in the Philippines the combination of the two is standard practice for many mourners.

An average wake in the country lasts 5–6 days, and a portion of the cash brought in from gaming during this time often goes toward covering the costs of the funeral. In fact, there are even small “businesses” set up that cater to those who are holding a funeral and intend to have some serious gaming going on for the duration. These groups operate a variety of games, going from one wake to another if business warrants.

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Popular games include, but are not limited to, Sakla (a version of tarot cards), bingo, poker, and mahjong. Even the kids get in on the action by betting on fighting spiders.

The practice of gambling at wakes is so popular (and viewed as mostly legal) that gaming syndicates reportedly organize “fake” wakes in order to provide a venue for serious gamblers. Because of the general lack of enforcement at funerals, and the slightly more stringent limits on gaming otherwise, there has been a measure of success with the business.

Apparently, obtaining a stand-in corpse for these fake wakes is as simple as renting one from the local morgue. Oftentimes, these rented (or sometimes even purchased) bodies are unclaimed corpses. For morgues, the motivation to participate in this trade is rather high as renting them out (at whatever price) is going to be more than what it would cost to store them.

Have to say, as morbid as the thought of playing cards next to a mystery corpse is, you have got to hand it to them for their ingenuity.

The lengths to which some go in order to gamble really shows just how deeply entrenched it is in the culture of the Philippines. Apart from wakes, there are games played illegally in underground clubs or in a more widely organized “out in the open” fashion. One of the latter type is Jueteng, an extremely popular numbers game.

People running this game will first seek out others who are willing to make a wager, small or large. They do this by going door-to-door or by setting up a streetside stand, especially around busy outdoor markets. A notable characteristic of this game is that it attracts those from any and all economic levels. As a result, authorities often look the other way when it comes to cracking down. It’s just too popular.

Of course, there is a real industry of commercialized gambling, in the form of big name casinos and such. But your average citizen there won’t be partaking in those venues. So, despite shaming from catholic priests or actual regulatory measures, the game goes on.