Washington Keeps Cockfighting Legal in Three States

It's Saturday night in rural Oklahoma and business is booming for a secretive group of men and women who have powerful friends in Washington.

This is the world of cockfighting, which is still legal in Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, where it is a billion dollar-a-year industry.

"They're a cross-section of America," says Charles Berry, the director of the American Animal Husbandry Coalition. "You know, we're God-fearing people who pay our taxes."

But it has been illegal in the 47 other states for years because of the cruelty involved, which the industry disputes: "It's brutal, but it's not cruel," insists Berry.

But as we saw with ourhidden cameras hidden cameras, roosters are forced to fight to the death. [click here for the video]

"They are pumped up with stimulants," describes Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States. "They have knives or ice-pick-like gaffes affixed to their legs. And they immediately hack each other to death. Punctured, lungs, gouged eyes, other grievous wounds are part-and-parcel of cockfighting in America."

One big attraction is gambling, which is illegal in Oklahoma but was wide open on this night, with thousands of dollars changing hands over which roosters would win.

The nights are advertised as family outings with admission free for anyone under the age of 12, in an environment that critics say breeds criminality.

"Nationwide, the illegal activities are crimes of violence, drug crimes and gambling crimes," says Janet Halliburton of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting.

U.S. Senate Keeps it Legal

But to the amazement of law enforcement officials around the country, a federal law that would essentially end the legal cockfighting industry has been blocked in the Senate. It has been blocked, according to critics, by the one man who has the power to do so: Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

"It sat on the Senate calendar for seven months," Pacelle told ABCNEWS. "And Sen. Lott simply would not allow this legislation to come to the floor for a vote."

Sponsors of the bill say it would pass overwhelmingly if put to a vote.

But the cockfighting industry has spent more than a quarter million dollars to stop it, hiring two former senators as lobbyists, Steven Symms of Idaho and Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, who quit the account this year.

Lott declined to appear on camera, but confirmed that he opposed the bill in the last session and may do so again. "I applaud Sen. Lott's vision and understanding of what is in the best interests of the people of this country," corroborates Berry.

Many of the fighting roosters come from farms in Mississippi — and shipping fighting birds across state lines would be outlawed under the proposed legislation, disrupting what remains a huge business.

But for now, with Lott on their side, the people here have little to worry about.

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