olivier laude
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Guangzou's Horse Racing Track

In a country that has declared gambling "a paramount evil," ranked alongside prostitution and drug addiction, Guangzhou's race course, is nothing short of a modern day Babylon in the making. The Guangzhou party officials who have given their blessings and support for this business venture, have skirted the issue of gambling's illegality by euphemistically referring to the betting system as an "intelligence competition." Club members pay a hefty membership fee to sit in private booths and gain more face than money" where as with many things these days in China, prestige is as valued as wealth. Since the winnings can be small, showing up at the races is akin to going to a country club , where deals are brokered, wives and girlfriends paraded.

The Guangzhou Jockey Club, which runs and operates this state enterprise denies allegations that the entire racing is choreographed from start to finish to benefit the 400 horse owners and 2000 members. It asserts that 70% of the money goes back to the punters, 10% to the running of the track and 20% to the government and charity.

Many see The Guangzhou Jockey Club as the first of many more such race tracks in China, and smell the sweet scent of money. Experts say that racing in China can only move in million-dollar leaps over the next decade and that the sheer size of the potential market is so large that investors and enthusiasts are stepping over each other to keep up with this budding industry. Horse breeders, gamblers and investors see China becoming involved in a billion dollar breeding and racing industry which, because of the country's size, could within years dwarf all other such venues around the world.

Guangzhou's race track does not have official central government approval and could be closed if adverse publicity was received. It's future is at the whim of Beijing's notoriously fickle leaders. Any change in government could shut the whole thing down or propel it to new heights.

The race track is a palpable metaphor for the developing China and a testing ground for how far officials are willing to invest and bet in politicaly risky ventures. I find very few venues in China more subtly telling of the tensions, political jostling and possible gargantuan rewards that Guangzhou's horse track symbolizes. If I were a bookie I would start taking bets on the future of the horse racing industry in China!

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