updated 1/23/2007 8:01:45 PM ET 2007-01-24T01:01:45

Police raiding a cockfighting pit in southern Virginia charged more than 120 people, most from out of state, in a case animal-welfare advocates said shows that Virginia's weak laws against cockfighting have made it a magnet for the sport.

At least three-quarters of the people found in Sunday's raid of a Boydton farm came from North Carolina, where cockfighting has been a felony since 2005, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Danny Fox said. Boydton is near the state line.

Attending or promoting a cockfight is illegal in Virginia, but only if gambling is involved or admission is charged, Fox said. Even then, it's a misdemeanor that brings just a small fine comparable to a traffic ticket.

People paid $20 each to attend Sunday's cockfighting derby, Fox said.

Sheriff's deputies issued summonses to 122 people, and Homeland Security officers arrested 22, including suspected gang members who are facing deportation, Fox said. Authorities confiscated 126 birds.

Officials with The Humane Society of the United States spent the past eight months investigating the pit and took undercover video footage before informing police, said John Goodwin, the group's deputy manager of animal rights issues.

"Cockfighting has always been in Virginia, but it's become much bigger in the last few years along the North Carolina line," Goodwin said. North Carolina's law against cockfighting is punishable by up to 12 months in prison.

The Humane Society named Virginia one of "five states with laughable cockfighting laws" in August. Only Alabama's $50 maximum fine is more lax than Virginia's laws, Goodwin said.

During a typical cockfight, two roosters are outfitted with sharpened metal spurs and placed in a pen. They fight until one is dead or incapacitated.

"This is a primitive blood sport that goes back thousands of years," Goodwin said. "Unfortunately, some people haven't progressed beyond that."

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