Reports on betting at Wuhan horse races pulled from websites
Authorities are trying to play down reports about the introduction of betting on horse races in Wuhan in the near future, fearing it will contradict the Communist Party's long-standing ban on gambling.
Thursday's Changjiang Times quoted Wuhan party secretary Miao Wei as saying the State Sports General Administration had given approval for a 'horse-racing lottery' in Wuhan in September, but Xinhua said betting trials would probably not begin until next year.
The Changjiang Times stories and the Chinese version of the Xinhua report were both deleted from their websites yesterday.
Wuhan media was also told to ignore the topic until official approval had been given.
'The publicity department has ordered us not to report or reprint any stories about the horse-racing lottery. They want to keep a low profile. After all, gambling has been banned here for about half a century,' a reporter at the Wuhan Evening News said.
The term 'horse-racing lottery' has been used to sidestep the gambling ban.
China Sports Lottery Administration Centre spokesman Feng Xin denied that authorities had approved betting on horse races in Wuhan, according to the Southern Metropolis News.
'Horse-racing lotteries are still being studied,' Mr Feng was quoted as saying. 'They haven't been reviewed yet. How can they get the official permit?'
Qin Yingwei , director of a research office under the Wuhan Democratic League who was commissioned to report on the feasibility of horse racing in the city, confirmed that conditions were not yet ripe for introducing gambling. There were not enough horses at Wuhan's Orient Lucky City, the site earmarked for regular races from September.
'It has about 300 horses so far after introducing 250 last year,' Mr Qin said. 'But it needs at least 400 for betting. We plan to have one race per month at the beginning and then, gradually, one or two races per week.'
Mr Qin said it was up to the Ministry of Finance, which controls lotteries, to approve betting on horse races. A spokesman for the ministry refused to comment on the issue.
But an Orient Lucky Horse Group spokeswoman said: 'We are preparing for a horse-race lottery, but so far, we haven't got any official notice of permits.'
Hong Kong businessman Jacky Wu Yuet-Ko is president of Orient Lucky Horse Group, which has staged an annual international horse-racing festival in Wuhan since 2003.
Guangzhou first got approval in 1993 to run trial horse races and trackside betting using Hong Kong as a model, but the racecourse was closed in 1999 amid reports of corruption, doping and animal abuse.