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Horse race bets to be legalized
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The Chinese mainland could see the first official bet placed on a horse race since 1949 as early as next year.


The central government has approved the establishment of regular horse racing in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province, and is mulling over the introduction of gambling on the races in 2009.


The races would be held at the Orient Lucky City racecourse in Wuhan in September this year, according to a senior manager with the Orient Lucky Horse Group Cooperation, who did not want to be named.


The announcement is being seen as the beginning of gambling on horse racing on the Chinese mainland.


The Changjiang Times newspaper in Wuhan reported that betting will be launched alongside horse racing in September.


However, the manager told Xinhua betting on the races would probably not be introduced on a trial basis until 2009.


"Initially about 250 horses from different jockey clubs around the country will participate in the races," said the manager, "but betting can only be officially launched when the races draw at least 2,000 horses."


"The proposal of betting on horse racing is being reviewed and discussed but there is no concrete information on when or whether it will begin," a spokeswoman with the China Sports Lottery Administration Center (CSLC) surnamed Fang told Xinhua by telephone.


Qin Zunwen, an expert in the study of horse racing betting, said the business, once fully operational nationwide, could create three million jobs a year.


He told the Changjiang Times that annual lottery sales could reach a staggering 100 billion yuan (US$13.7 billion), yielding 40 billion yuan in tax revenues.


"Offering a legal venue to bet on horse races could drive out illegal online gambling," he added.


Wuhan started to study the feasibility of introducing betting on horse racing in 2005 and has since submitted several reports to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).


A survey conducted by the Hubei Academy of Social Sciences revealed that 83.3 percent of the Wuhan residents believed the introduction of betting would have a positive social impact, and 51 percent of the respondents said they were "interested" or "very interested" in gambling on the races.


Wuhan was once a center for horse racing in the early 1900s, where foreign and Chinese businessmen developed the top three racecourses in the country.


But the sport was banned on the Chinese mainland in 1949 when the Communist Party came to power. It wasn't until the early 1990s that it reappeared after national races were organized and jockey clubs set up.


Wuhan is now home to more than 400 race horses and has held the country's biggest equestrian festival annually in October since 2003.


(Xinhua News Agency January 11, 2008)


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