Horse racing? Premier says don't bet on it -- yet

QUASHING RUMORS: Although a plan to allow auto and equestrian races is in the works, the premier said there were many angles that had to be considered first


Sat, Apr 07, 2007 - Page 1

There is not even the slightest possibility that the government would legalize sports car and horse racing in the near future, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said yesterday.

Su made the remarks in the wake of media reports that quoted Council for Economic Planning and Development Vice Chairman Chang Ching-sen (張景森) as saying that auto racing was expected to be allowed before horse racing, and that Yunlin County stood a good chance of being the first to benefit if these sports were to be legalized.

The Central News Agency on Thursday quoted Chang as saying that horse racing, auto racing and other competitive sports would be promoted in a new plan to boost economic growth in southern Taiwan.

The plan was researched and compiled in cooperation with the National Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (NCPFS) and was expected to be formally submitted to the Cabinet for possible implementation in June, Chang said.

While there are few legal obstacles to opening up auto racing, equestrian racing would perhaps require amending the Animal Protection Act (動物保護法). The NCPFS will also determine a third internationally popular competitive sport to be included in the package, he added.

Although the plan will not be officially proposed for several months, the Yunlin County government has already proposed a plan to procure 80 hectares of land from Taiwan Sugar Corp (台糖公司) and establish an equestrian racing company. It estimates that it would need a budget of around NT$1.2 billion (US$36.3 million) for the early stages of operating a horse track, and has not ruled out asking for assistance from the central government.

Stressing that the possible opening was still far from being realized, Su said yesterday that the government had to craft a comprehensive program and revise several laws first.

Although Yunlin County is very keen on racing events, Su said the issue had to be fully explored from legal, tourism, animal protection and gambling perspectives in advance.

"Yunlin is definitely qualified, but we need to clear up the gray areas before we carry out any policy, including this," Su said.

The sentiment of Penghu County residents also had to be heeded, as Penghu has long sought government permission to set up casinos, he added.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus yesterday applauded the idea of legalizing auto and equestrian racing in central or southern Taiwan.

DPP caucus whip Wang Sing-nan (王幸男) said the opening would help bridge the nation's regional development gap, given that the Taiwan High Speed Rail has shortened the time needed to travel between northern and southern Taiwan.

Pan-blue lawmakers yesterday urged the government not to be too hasty in opening race circuits, questioning whether consideration for the year-end election was one of its motives.

"The ruling party has been opposing casino operations. It never supported gambling legislation for the outlying islands in the legislature," People First Party spokesman Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) said. "Why is it that the DPP now plans to open race circuits in Taiwan proper?"

Lee said his party suggested that casino operations be introduced on a trial basis in outlying islands first and that the program be gradually expanded to other counties or cities on Taiwan proper.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus whip Kuo Su-chun (郭素春) asked the government to come up with a comprehensive plan that can take care of the possible downsides of casino operations before putting the program into practice.

"The party supports competitions like auto and horse racing either in outlying islands or Taiwan proper in terms of promoting sporting activities, but we have to take related problems such as gambling and the deterioration of public security into account," Kuo said.

The Taiwan Solidarity Union caucus, however, urged the Cabinet to draw up a complete set of policies if it decided to allow betting on races.

Animal rights groups yesterday voiced opposition to the plan, saying that cruelty to animals should not be tolerated.

"Horses are not suitable for racing. Many break their legs during races," Chen Yu-min, director of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

"The government has failed to boost the economy, and now it is suggesting horse race gambling. We can hold a public debate to see if the public supports it or opposes it," she added.

Shih Chao-hui, a Buddhist nun who campaigns for animal rights and is against gambling, also objected to the plan.

"Studies have shown that in places where gambling is legalized, the gambling industry alone thrives while other businesses decline," she said.

Additional reporting by Jimmy Chuang and Flora Wang