Macao Ends 44 Years of Horse Racing as Casinos Continue COVID Recovery

Land Based Casinos Business
Edward Scimia

Updated by Edward Scimia

Journalist

Last Updated 1st Apr 2024, 11:41 PM

Macao Ends 44 Years of Horse Racing as Casinos Continue COVID Recovery

A scene from the final horse races run at the Macao Jockey Club on Saturday, where equestrian betting has long been part of the Chinese casino landscape. (Image: Louise Delmotte / Associated Press / Alamy)

The Macao Jockey Club (MJC) held its final races for the foreseeable future on Saturday, ending a 44-year tradition of horse racing at the gambling hub.

The decision came even as casinos in the city continue to post improving revenues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Large Crowd Comes Out for Last Races

The Macao government made the decision to end its contract with the Macao Jockey Club in January, after the Macao Horse Race Company requested an end to the concession due to operational challenges.

On the final day of racing, more than 3,000 spectators came out to watch and bet on the races. That was more than six times the typical crowd of the last year, which averaged just 492 attendees. The crowd was boosted by first-time visitors, former fans coming back for one last bet, and tourists who heard the news about the track.

“We could come here to see horse racing in Macao, but not in mainland China,” Mai Wan-zun, a mainland Chinese student who traveled to Macao for the final day of racing, told the Associated Press. 

According to the MJC, it was operating at a loss of over 2.5 billion patacas ($310 million) as of January. Betting handle, which peaked at more than 9 billion patacas ($1.12 billion) in the 2003-2004 season, had fallen to just 140 million patacas ($17.4 million) last year. 

“There has been limited room for development and growth of the horse racing industry in Macao over the years,” the MJC said in a January statement. “And including the adverse effect bought about by pandemic over these last three years, it has become increasingly difficult to sustain the operations.” 

macau horse betting window

Horse racing bettors in Macao collecting on some of the last bets to be taken at the Macao Jockey Club, operating for decades in the shadow of the city's massive casinos. (Image: Louise Delmotte / Associated Press / Alamy)

Other Asian Racing Markets Thriving

The fate of horse racing in Macao runs in stark contrast to other Asian racing markets. In Hong Kong, for example, betting handle reached $17.9 billion in 2022, while Japan reported $21.7 billion in horse racing turnover in 2023. 

“MJC can only blame itself for its failure,” bettor Steve Kao, who has attended horse races in Hong Kong and Macao for 50 years, told Nikkei Asia. “The races were not clean, sometimes, so I don’t have confidence in them. I would bet a few hundred bucks in Hong Kong but I bet much less in Macao.”

The Macao government took control of the racecourse land and facilities on Monday. However, the MJC can stay on the premises while the more than 200 horses stabled there can be transported to other locations over the next year. 

According to the government, the land will not be repurposed for gambling.

The end of horse racing in Macao comes as the city’s casinos are getting back to the record revenues they enjoyed before the pandemic. In March, Macao casinos brought in 19.5 billion patacas ($2.42 billion), the most since January 2020 and up 53% year-over-year. That’s still well below pre-pandemic levels, however, as the industry made 25.84 billion patacas ($3.21 billion) in March 2019.

The closure of the MJC comes as the Macao government looks to diversify the local economy. Officials are aiming to have 60 percent of the city’s gross domestic product come from nongaming sectors by 2028.

Meet The Author

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Edward Scimia
Edward Scimia
Journalist Journalist

Ed Scimia is a freelance writer who has been covering the gaming industry since 2008. He graduated from Syracuse University in 2003 with degrees in Magazine Journalism and Political Science. In his time as a freelancer, Ed has worked for About.com, Gambling.com, and Covers.com, among other sites. He has also authored multiple books and enjoys curling competitively, which has led to him creating curling-related content for his YouTube channel "Chess on Ice."

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