Cockfighting, an ancient blood sport, pits roosters against one another in gladiatorlike combat to the death. It’s been banned in California since 1905.
Yet many locations, concentrated heavily in the Central Valley, still raise roosters for fighting, said Eric Sakach, a senior law enforcement specialist for the Humane Society of the United States.
Since late last year, news reports have provided accounts of cockfighting operations in Corcoran, East Palo Alto, Santa Maria and Fontana.
The southern border area is another hot spot, in part because of its proximity to Mexico, where cockfighting is allowed. In 2007, the authorities in San Diego’s Otay Mesa, a community along the border, seized more than 5,000 roosters in what was called the country’s largest cockfighting raid.
California has been a destination for cockfighting because it usually regards participation as a misdemeanor, unlike neighboring states that impose felony charges, said Mr. Sakach.
The secretive events are advertised by word of mouth, with code words sometimes assigned to gain entry. The rooster owners contribute to a purse that can grow to $15,000 or more.
Spectators drink beer and place side bets as the roosters peck and claw each other to the death, aided by blades affixed to their legs. Losers are tossed into a garbage can.
Californians enjoy a number of legal ways to gamble, casinos and horse tracks for example, that don’t involve the possibility of arrest. Why cockfighting?
Mr. Sakach attended cockfights as an undercover investigator. He suggested there was an “adrenaline rush” that came with breaking the law.
But the allure also speaks to a more primal instinct, he said.
“The gambling is a huge factor,” he said. “But the bottom line is the entertainment value of watching two animals slice or stab each other to death is a driver.”