Horse racing, like most forms of betting, has been banned on the Chinese mainland since the Communists took power in 1949. Perhaps that’s why the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the region’s sole purveyor of horse betting, does such boffo business. But it may finally be facing some competition… sorta.
Developers and horse enthusiasts are taking an ‘if you build it, the authorities will someday let you bet there’ approach. Massive complexes of racetracks, shopping centers and luxurious accommodations are springing up in old British Empire colonial outposts like Shanghai and Wuhan, where the legacy of racing never quite faded from memory. It doesn’t hurt that China keeps churning out new millionaires eager for conspicuous methods of demonstrating their newfound affluence to their peers.
But you have to walk before you can gallop, so right now the best horse bettors in Wuhan can expect is a form of horse racing lottery, an ‘intelligence competition’ in which you pick the winner in advance, for which you receive a nominal prize (think cabfare home). The horse backers are hoping that the authorities are a symbolic bunch and thus will bow to the inevitable by 2014 — the year of the horse. They also hope there’s no lingering ill will over the whole ‘grass mud horse’ thing.
Meanwhile, Portugal’s Agriculture Minister announced that he would ‘like to do something’ about legalizing horse racing in the country. That’s about as specific as Antonio Serrano got during his announcement, and you got the sense he was half expecting someone to throw a horseshoe at his head. Previous attempts at opening up the country’s horse racing sector have been undone by resistance from local casinos and monopoly lottery/betting provider Santa Casa da Misericordia de Lisboa (SCML).
The minister did add one caveat to his announcement. All too aware of the financial woes and levy battles currently dominating the racing headlines in other countries, Serrano warned that whatever scheme the country introduced, it would have to be ‘self-sustainable.’ In other words, muck out your own damn stables.