Portugal is “just a few years away” from having a network of stadiums promoting horseracing with bets which could channel €300 million into the economy every year. Construction, employment, agriculture, tourism – the list of winners is endless, with the government right at the top, set to scoop the field with betting taxes.
The Resident has been talking to the president of Portugal’s horseracing league (Liga dos Cavalos) Ricardo Carvalho who told us the Algarve is an integral part of the project.
“The Algarve will most definitely be getting a stadium,” he told us. “It would be in Portimão or Vilamoura. It’s too early yet to say exactly where. We are in touch with various local authorities and once we’ve sorted all the details on the bettings side (with Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa), we will start the process of attracting the necessary investment.”
The ambitious project is one that has been dear to Carvalho’s heart for the last 20 years. President of the league for 18 of them, he told us he is confident now that progress is just around the corner.
“I would say that, if everything goes according to plan, we’ll have the first stadium up and ready to go within three years.
“It could be in the Algarve, it could be elsewhere. Right now, every location in the north, centre and south holds different advantages. The north, for instance, is where most of the country’s racehorses are. But the south, of course, has advantages when it comes to weather. We will just have to see how things progress.
“I have been fighting for this for 20 years. I am quite certain this is the beginning of a great new industry for Portugal.”
The news has been publicised on dinheirovivo website which described the government as wanting “to put Portugal on the international horseracing map”.
With Santa Casa taking over the management of the betting side, a government ordinance setting logistical rules was passed earlier this month.
The ordinance is not specific as to the number of stadiums, simply that there will be a network in which each one has the capacity for at least 3,000 people, with parking spaces for as many as 1,000 cars and 10 buses.
According to DV, the project will benefit from State incentives, and should begin construction as early as 2016, with the first stadium ready by 2018.
The ordinance sets out rules for building and sanitation, specifying that there will have to be three separate access points at all stadiums, “one for the general public, one for horseracing professionals and the last for horses and their respective means of transport”.
Stadiums will boast two tracks – one for conventional flat-racing, the other for carriage racing (trote atrelado) – and there will be special restricted areas for “a minimum of 100 horseboxes”. Tracks, too, are defined. They will have an interior perimeter of “at least 1350 metres”.
Portugal’s horse cluster
Referring to the plan as the “horse cluster”, the government is quoted as saying that “the importance of horses throughout history” has long been recognised and that horseracing will make a “significant contribution to the development” of the horse cluster, as well as the creation of wealth and employment generally.
DV wrote that the government “congratulated itself” on approval for the project, outlining multiple sectors due that will benefit – and stressing that Portugal is in a perfect position for “breeding and training” as its climatic conditions are far superior to those in northern Europe.
Breeders and trainers could be persuaded to come to Portugal, the article added – while Carvalho told us that the mere fact that the government supports the plan will now see many more horses bred nationally.
“Right now we only have around 200-250 horses,” he explained, “but once these stadiums are a reality, we could have as many as 10,000 horses running three times a week.”
Revenue of €300 million every year, creating 6,000 direct jobs
Carvalho has predicted that the introduction of horseracing with bets could generate as much as €300 million s per year for the country, and create 6,000 direct jobs – with many others coming as a result of the industry, including work in agriculture (for increased demand for animal feed) and veterinary medicine.
But now the government has started looking at the figures and ministers are clearly rubbing their hands with glee.
The ordinance published by the ministry of Agriculture in state newspaper Diário da República sets out what percentages of revenue will go where, with various ministries (internal administration, health, social security, education and culture) due to receive “liquid results from betting”.
The tax department too will benefit, with “tax calculated at 15%” on bets.
Thus, punters will be funding a new wave of investment in Portugal as they enjoy the kind of flutter that could also see them laughing if not all the way to the bank, at least most of the distance.