Horse Betting Back in China

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After nearly 60 years, punters in mainland China can now bet on horseracing. In January, the central government had announced that horse betting would be reintroduced in Wuhan in September. After a two-month delay, it’s official: beginning this Saturday, the Orient Lucky City racecourse (let’s hope they come up with a less cringe-worthy English name) in Wuhan will host races twice a week. It’s not a new sport to Wuhan—thanks to the Opium War and the subsequent British presence in the city, Wuhan became a horseracing center in the late 19th century, but stamped out the sport in 1949 after the Communist Party banned all forms of gambling.

It’s a touchy subject—official coverage of the news has so far avoided the word “gambling,” instead calling what’s being rolled out “commercial horse race meetings” and “horse lotteries.” Proponents of legalized horse betting on the mainland just have to look at Hong Kong, where the Jockey Club has become the single largest taxpayer in the city, contributing billions of dollars to local charities and schools. Researcher Qin Zunwen told the Wuhan-based Changjiang Times that the establishment of a national horse-betting industry could create three million jobs and more than $13 billion in revenue every year. Horse betting is just another step toward opening up China’s frighteningly massive gambling market. The country already has a national lottery, which in 2007 raked in nearly $14 billion dollars. Last year, China also legalized slot-machine-like games called video lottery terminals. So will we ever see casinos on the mainland? And if that happens, what will become of Macau?