“This consuming cancer”, wrote Governor-General Camba of gambling in the preamble to an edict dated 7 March 1838, “that destroys the fortune of many families, encourages sloth, hinders the sources of public wealth, perverts good faith, corrupts the people's morals and leads them to degradation and misery. Unfortunately the vice has spread prolifically in this rich soil”. Spanish authorities held gambling to be both morally reprehensible and economically detrimental, yet official recognition was extended to an activity that could not be eradicated and from which the colonial state derived considerable financial benefit. The definition of criminality in respect to gambling, therefore, became dependent on the inability of the state to enforce its own regulations and the exigencies of financial demands. This article will examine the popularity of cockfighting and other forms of gambling in the Philippines, the extent of official ambivalence towards these sports, and the motives behind colonial policy. In the process, Gusfield's concept of the “moral passage”, whereby once tolerated behaviour is redefined as deviant and treated as criminal, will be shown to have application in reverse. Gambling was progressively legalized during the late 18th and 19th centuries as the state profited from such activities.