Hainan’s Deputy Governor Denies Plans for Gambling, Horse Racing
Hainan Island’s deputy governor said his province would neither develop horse racing nor gambling this year. Mao Chaofeng made the remarks before he set off for Beijing, where he is designated to serve as Hainan’s delegate to the annual parlimentary session of the National People’s congress.
In his comments, Mao Chaofeng reiterated that Hainan’s proposed legalization of horse racing had nothing to do with gambling. Like the recent horse races in Conghua, horse racing will be done in a non-gaming capacity.
Deputy Governor Mao said, “Any person who sees our plan to develop horse racing as a kind of gambling is totally mistaken.” He went further, suggesting that gambling itself is not a high priority. Previously, Hainan Island allowed 5 hotels to offer a modified form of casino gaming, but not full gambling.
The island’s second-ranking official added, “Horse racing in Hainan is not gambling. Our bottom line is that Hainan will not allow [criminal activities] involving prostitution, gambling or drugs.”
Hainan Daily Predicted Horse Racing Guidelines
Mao directly contradicted suggestions made in the Hainan Daily two months ago, which called for the provincial government to develop guidelines on promoting the sport. Instead, the deputy governor said such plans were not in the government’s plans at all.
In a flat denial, Deputy Governor Mao said, “My understanding is that we have not yet begun planning for horse racing.”
Beijing’s Plans for Hainan Island
The announcement comes as a disappointment for business operators in China’s latest free-trade zone. Hainan Island is a tourist destination off the southern coast of China. Indications over the past couple of years were Beijing wanted to develop the island as a third special administrative zone — and perhaps as a gambling destination in competition with Macau.
When asked pointedly about guidelines for equestrian games, Mao replied, “No, they will not.” He added that any new activities require deliberation to determine its impact on the island. The deputy minister said, “It is a complicated matter requiring a lot of research and study.”
Casino gambling would be a natural addition to the tourist economy of Hainan, whose tropical climate and beachfront resorts on the South China Sea would be enhanced with casino resorts. Instead, Mao said the island faces “complications” with that plan. He did not elaborate on what those complications were.
Ban on Gambling in Mainland China
Those complications might be the same obstacles faced elsewhere on mainland China. All forms of gambling are banned except lotteries, where are controlled by state-run organizations. In fact, lotteries are not considered a form of gambling by the Beijing government — unless one talks about the lotteries sometimes held by illegal gaming operators.
All casinos are banned on the mainland. Only Macau, a special administrative zone, is allowed to have them. The former Portuguese colony had a substantial casino economy for 37 years before Macau reverted from Portugal to China, so Beijing’s leaders allowed the enclave to continue operators.
Indeed, it allowed Macau to step up operations, ending SJM Holdings’ decades-long monopoly and bringing in competition from the United States. While Xi Jinping grew disappointed in Macau’s increasing reliance on casino gambling, he and Beijing’s top leadership seemed interested in creating a rival in Hainan Island — and a greater presence for mainlanders in the South China Sea.
Hong Kong Jockey Club in Conghua
The Jockey Club recently held a first-ever horse race at a new billion-dollar racing facility in Conghua, a northern suburb of Guangzhou. But the Jockey Club was quick to point out their races involved no wagering — and the club had no interest in promoting gambling in the future.
Now it appears Hainan is following suit. The speculation that the island could become the first province to have pari-mutuel betting on horse racing might be the kind of nasty rumors that happens when the discussion of horse racing comes up at the same time hotels are offering casino games without real money payouts.
If so, such rumors work against the expansion of a sport that would bring entertainment, but no gambling (and no social problems), to the island. Thus, Mao Chaofeng must make an unambiguous walk-back of earlier comments on the spread of horse racing.
Xi Jinping’s Suggestions for Hainan
Interestingly, Hainan’s leaders appear to be resistant to the policies Beijing officials want. Last April, leaders in the nation’s capital said they wanted to promote casino gambling and horse racing in Hainan. President Xi Jinping said at the time his lieutenants were “exploring a sports betting lottery and an instant lottery on large international events.”
President Xi made no mention of betting on horses, though the expansion of horse racing from Hong Kong has been on the table over the months since Xi made his remarks. Since Xi’s April 2018 comments, the official policy of provincial leaders has been to deny such activities were coming anytime soon and to suggest that any such things should be studied thoroughly beforehand.
Mao Chaofeng’s comments will come as a disappoint to local investors, though it should come as no surprise to business people. Last October, Liu Cigui, Hainan’s Communist Party boss, said gambling and horse racing were off the table. Liu Cigui also warned businesses from registering names that made any reference to the phrase “horse racing“.
National Development & Reform Commission
Potential investors had other reasons to hope, though. The signals have been mixed. In December, the National Development & Reform Commission published the “Implementation Plan for Developing an International Tourism Consumption Centre in Hainan Province“, which made specific mention of horse racing and of gambling.
Both horse racing and sports lotteries were listed under the sub-heading “Expanding consumption of sport and tourism activities.”
Then the Hainan Daily published an article in January which said the Hainan Department of Culture, Radio, Television, Publication and Sports expected to release guidelines for the development of “water sports, beach sports and horse racing”.
Mao Chaofeng rejected that idea, saying, “There are many details to it that the current law does not support…it is not that we can just draw a racecourse out and let them race.”
30 Years of Disappointment for Horse Racing
This is not the first time Hainan’s business community has faced rejection of such activities. All the way back in 1993, Hainan leaders proposed building a racecourse, but then-president Jiang Zemin rejected the idea in a speech he gave during a visit to the island.
In 2009, the roles were reversed. Then the Beijing leadership announced plans to turn Hainan Island into a international tourist resort destination and intimated it might follow the path of Macau. In 2010, though, Wei Liucheng, Hainan’s then-Communist Party chief, announced that there would be no development of horse racing on the island.
The same pattern appears to be happening now. Deputy Governor Mao said any sports activity should have “Hainan characteristics”, but equestrian sports are alien to the island culture. He added, “Whether it is football or equestrian, Hainan lacks a platform for these sports to be carried out in a high-quality manner, so at the moment we cannot say how to make good use of the policy on lottery and sports betting yet….[Having a sports betting lottery] is still just a concept.”