I was in San Juan Puerto Rico last weekend and happened across a chicken fighting establishment in Isla Verde. I decided to venture in to see what it was really like as I had heard a lot of stories and had seen the movies but had never personally been. I will not comment on the actual fights but they are definitely not for everyone, those who are squeamish or are animals lovers will not appreciate the place one bit.

However, what was interesting was the entire setup reminded me very much of the CME. There was a tiered system of seats (similar to the CME platforms) that descended to a central pit (where the fighting happened). In the lower tiers sat the professional bettors. They were largely a motley crew, not the kinds of people you would want to meet in an alley. They had various hand signals that allowed betting. The hand signals looked very similar to the old pit signals. All was done in Spanish which made it hard to follow so I managed to find an English speaking bouncer to give me the rundown.

Bets are on a one off basis and they are between members of the pit. No regulatory body exists to ensure fulfillment. However, there is a code of honor I was told and welching would not be tolerated (I didn't ask what that meant–the ambiance didn't leave many imaginative alternatives). Odds are not posted or discussed. Nor were the stats on the chicken, the prior W/L ratio, the bloodline, the breeder, etc. Other specifics such as weight and age were also unavailable. The owner's name was posted on a screen but there did not seem to be repetition. Not much data. It was very wide open and seemed overly biased toward the insider.

The birds were all kept in a long row of cages about 5 high by 25 wide. Ironically, the cages seemed more humane than those metal bottomed found in a pet store. The birds were fed into two glass cases where a pulley system sent them out to the top center of the arena, then lowering them down into the pit. Each bird was given a blue or white band on its leg to signify who was who. After blue won 7 straight I asked the bouncer if this happened much and who set the leg tags. He said it was the man behind the cages. I ventured out to find the man to determine what system he used to decide on blue vs white but all I got was "no habla ingles". Shortly thereafter white began to win (3 in a row). Perhaps my inquiry/noticing stirred something. Perhaps it was random. The vast majority of the crowd were 50+, male, and stupidly drunk. They would bet and lose and meander off. They did not seem like they would notice things like blue winning seven straight.

The fights began when the birds were lowered into the pit. Some betting took place then. The bell rang and the birds came out and began to fight. After a minute (if it went on a minute) a large buzzer would go off signifying the true beginning of the fight. I guess they wanted a minute to see the odds live. This is when the betting would get intense and the inner circle near the pit would erupt. It reminded me of a payrolls day. Odds would go off between individual parties at undisclosed levels depending on what the first 60 seconds displayed. There were bets before the first minute was up but less so than after (similar to pre 930 cash open in futures). After a while the fight would not hold much more mystery as the dominant fighter would be clearly in the lead. At this point some last minute bets would go off at (presumably) higher odds by the anxiety ridden losing gamblers as the announcer chanted "losing" in Spanish adding insult to injury.

The core players seemed to all be interested or disinterested at the same times. The activity on certain fights would get intense, other times it was slow and listless. On the way out I noticed the majority of the parking lot was full of lower priced cars while, closest to the door, stood 10 or 15 SL500s and such.

I found myself glad to be part of an established market with fair practices. I wondered if this is how things began in the various commodity futures markets which led to the establishment of the CFTC , NFA, etc. I was also told, in broken English, that the establishment was in the process of setting up a central betting system which would have a window where a bilingual clerk would take bets. Hard not to wonder what that will mean for the market and for the bankrolls of the drivers of the high end vehicles. And if the same thing(s) existed in the CME or the NYSE in olden days.


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