A key provision of the federal Agricultural Act of 2014 (known commonly as the farm bill), recently signed into law by President Barack Obama, may soon make cockfighting illegal in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.

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Currently, the laws related to cockfighting in U.S. territories are ambiguous. An entertainment tax is placed on cockfighting in the U.S. Virgin Islands if tickets are sold, effectively making the sport legal. The new farm bill, which does not directly address cockfights but instead makes it illegal to attend them, may void some legal precedents that had allowed cockfighting in our territory.

The provision was most likely inserted into the farm bill to give further legal backing to states in which cockfights are illegal. In effect, however, it could mean that in insular territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, which has a long tradition of the sport, attending such an event could be punishable by law. According to the bill, attending a cockfight is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine. Bringing a minor under the age of 16 to a cockfight is punishable by up to three years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Advocates of these measures — including animal right groups like the Humane Society of the United States — argue that cockfighting is immoral and cruel to the animals involved. Defenders of this tradition, on the other hand, view it as a sport comparable to many others, such as boxing, and wish to defend a cherished local tradition and pastime.

The future of cockfighting in the U.S. Virgin Islands remains uncertain given the ambiguity of the farm bill, especially in terms of whether or not the law will be enforced in American territories. The U.S. Department of Justice has not yet offered much guidance on this matter and will most likely approach it case by case, even though representatives of the territories have raised questions regarding the change in the law. The U.S. Attorney’s office has also declined to comment thus far.

Considering this lack of legal guidance, the legality of cockfighting will likely be settled in courts on a case-by-case basis. Defenders of this local tradition and animal right advocates alike are eagerly waiting for this legal matter to be sorted out.

BoltNagi is a widely respected and well-established civil litigation law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.