Macau Says ‘Whoa’ to Horse Racing, Holds Last Races

Posted on: March 31, 2024, 12:56h. 

Last updated on: April 1, 2024, 09:56h.

China’s gambling hub of Macau held its last horse races on Saturday. Gamblers who only half-filled the Taipa Racecourse stands placed their final bets as the end came to a 40-year tradition in the city known primarily for its casinos.

Jockeys compete in the final race of the final day of racing in Macau at Taipa Racecourse at the Macau Jockey Club on March 30, 2024. (Image: Associated Press)

In January, the city’s government announced it was terminating its contract with the MJC 18 years early. According to a 24-year contract signed in 2018, the MJC pledged to invest millions into improving infrastructure and expanding offerings.

Macau’s Taipa Racecourse, pictured, will be returned to the government, which has no plans to offer racing again. (Image: Sky Racing World)

That never happened because horse racing in the former Portuguese colony never recovered after the pandemic. After the MJC accumulated more than $311 million in operating losses last year, its parent company, the Macau Horse Racing Company (MHRC), asked the government to free it from the contract.

Citing the “impossibility of aligning horse racing activities with the current developmental needs of society,” and taking into consideration “that these activities have progressively lost their appeal to local residents and tourists in recent years, the government, after thorough research, decided to accept the application from the Macau Horse Race Company,” Secretary for Administration and Justice Cheong Weng Chon told reporters in January.

Under the termination agreement, the MHRC will transport the owners’ horses to other locations by March 31, 2025, and provide severance pay to the company’s employees. Despite its diminishing popularity in Macau, the MJC remained one of Macau’s biggest private employers with around 800 full-time and 300 part-time workers.

The land presently occupied by the MJC, which includes the Taipa Racecourse, will be returned to the government, which has no plans to build another racetrack. Lawmakers have previously raised the possibility that the track could be transformed into a stadium for international sports events.

The MJC has held the exclusive rights to offer horse racing and horse betting in Macau since its founding as a harness racing course called the Macau Trotting Club in 1980. But harness racing never got out of the gate in Macau, so the club pivoted to the thoroughbred kind.

In 1991, the MJC was acquired by the MHRC, a consortium led by late gambling tycoon Stanley Ho, who held the casino monopoly in Macau until 2002.

Horse racing remains popular in neighboring Hong Kong.