Is the China Jockey Club an elaborate hoax? That’s the claim being reported by Asian media outlets, dashing hopes that Beijing was loosening its longtime restrictions on pari-mutuel wagering on the mainland.
Late last month, UK media outlets reported that Peter Philips, eldest grandchild of Queen Elizabeth, had been hired by the Chinese government to develop its domestic horseracing industry. The news came via the China Jockey Club, a working group tasked with devising a “strategy for the development of the racing industry.” This strategy would include evaluating “the use of the lottery system in the sport.”
The Club’s website lists nine departments under the watch of the China Horse Racing Executive Committee. One of these nine, the Racing Lottery, will endeavor to “strengthen the diversity of sports lottery” in China. “The tote system is align [sic] with the national strategy and government requirements to ensure all the income will go to the national treasure, the renowned charities and the racing industry.”
Wagering on horseraces has long been illegal in China, except in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. There have been localized trial efforts at establishing an organized horseracing lottery but none have succeeded. The only truly legit wagering options in town are the sports and welfare lotteries or, for the more determined bettor, any number of international online betting sites.
The China Jockey Club’s Overseas Secretary General Stewart Hosford insisted the government had “fully authorized” the plan, so much so that their launch was held at a “very prestigious building close to Tiananmen Square.” Hosford told the Telegraph that Philips had signed on as official global ambassador six months earlier and would return to China in June 2015 to attend the Club’s inaugural races in Shanghai. In addition to Philips, the Club’s committee members include Sir Keith Mills, who led London’s 2012 Olympic bid.
On Friday, the Communist Party’s official newspaper People’s Daily picked up the story, noting that shares in a few horse-related stocks had risen. But some lottery insiders suggested the story was fishy, arguing that China’s racing industry was in no state for wagering by June 2015, lacking both maturity and a formal regulatory agency. Some of these consultants also noted the lack of any hard evidence that state authorities had given the group their blessing.
This week, both the sports and welfare lottery organizations denied any knowledge of the Club’s plans. The Welfare Lottery’s official newspaper reported that the Club wasn’t legally registered in the online national database for social organizations. The South China Morning Post reported that three organizations the Club claimed had attended their launch were denying any involvement. The Counselors’ Office of the State Council saw fit to post a statement to its website calling the Club’s claims “seriously untrue.”
So… Is this a case of ready-fire-aim by the Club’s PR department, an elaborate pump-and-dump or the best episode ever of Punk’d? Wonder if the Queen’s amused to have Ashton Kutcher for a grandson.