China said it would encourage horse racing and expand sports lotteries in the southernmost island of Hainan, moves that may eventually open the door to gaming on the nation’s mainland for the first time.
China will support the development of horse racing and other projects including beach and water sports in Hainan, according to a reform agenda approved by China’s cabinet and announced in the official Xinhua News Agency Saturday. The province should also “explore the development of sports lottery and instant lottery on large-scale international games,” it said, without elaborating.
While the government bans all forms of gambling, it officially allows two types of lotteries -- including one in which players predict the outcomes of international soccer matches. It also permits some horse racing, though betting is banned and the central government had previously refrained from promoting the sport.
“Horse racing has grown quickly in China in recent years, but it’s the first time the central government has promoted the game for a city and simultaneously encouraged further development of sports lottery,” said Su Guojing, chairman of China Lottery Industry Salon, a business group. “Although it still takes time to explore, Hainan may try to launch a lottery for more sporting events, including horse racing and rowing, to help boost Hainan’s tourism.”
Any shift in China’s approach toward gambling could end up threatening the $33 billion casino industry in Macau -- the world’s largest gaming center-- as well as other casino hubs in Asia. Macau has been shifting to attract Chinese tourists and families to the territory, which is the same market that Hainan currently draws.