Racing: Betting branded as evil by China

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RACING in China, recently revived after over 40 years of communist disapproval, has been halted by a State Council decree that free-market reforms do not stretch to at least one capitalist evil - gambling.

Just eight months after racing commenced at a new course in the southern city of Guangzhou, the State Council has re-iterated its policy that gambling ranks alongside slavery and prostitution as one of the seven paramount evils.

Following the success of Guangzhou, racecourses sprang up in a number of cities and one Hong Kong entrepreneur, David Cheung, planned to build China's first greyhound stadium. But the document's stern warning has stopped all racing and forced Cheung to change his plans.

In Hong Kong, punters gambled HKdollars 47.26 billion ( pounds 4 billion) last season, but 130 kilometres away in Guangzhou, the State Council's warning has ended a scheme that would have meant April's initial meeting leading to monthly fixtures.

'The document from the central government stressed that horse racing can be run only as a sporting event. No betting is allowed,' Mao Licong, an organiser of the meeting, which was the first in China since the communists closed down racing in 1949, said. The Guangzhou organisers thought they had found a solution. Punters were charged an excessively high entry fee and tickets carried the numbers of competing horses. Prizes were then paid out of a pool made up of the admission money.

But the rules gradually became less rigid and at the last monthly meeting, in October, spectators were effectively allowed to bet on all races. This proved a great success and 42 ticket outlets sprang up in the city and neighbouring counties in just three months.

Following Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Huhhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, inaugurated meetings. The island province of Hainan also had plans for a course financed by foreign investors.

That has been shelved, for now. 'I believe Beijing will finally give some room for betting,' Cheung said. 'It's just a matter of time.'