LEGALISATION of horse race betting, similar to elsewhere in Europe, would create 10,000 jobs and 1,000 million euros worth of business within two years, according to experts in the field.
Plans to legalise betting, first mooted more than 10 years ago, were almost approved twice – in 2001 and 2005 – but collapsed when the governments fell on both occasions. Officials, horse owners, organisers and the Portuguese Equestrian Association are now hoping for a new law by the middle of next year.
Fernando de Figueiredo, director of Ponte de Lima racetrack, believes that the legalisation of betting would create wealth and jobs. “Horse breeding would really take off as a result, agriculture would also gain, as would the racing sector itself, transport firms and the civil construction sector, because a new law would inevitably lead to the building of more race tracks,” he says.
Losing time and money
Recent studies indicate that, in Portugal, there could be at least two million regular punters. Racing is already popular in Portugal, judging by crowds at Ponte de Lima, the country’s only racetrack in the far north, where two races every month draw an average of 3,000 spectators. Racegoers can place a token bet at Ponte de Lima, but the amount concerned – 25 cêntimos – is derisory.
“If we hadn’t had a good support framework, the course would already have closed,” admits Fernando de Figueiredo. He says that time and money are being lost while the country awaits new legislation. “You only have to look at other European countries to see that we are letting a great opportunity slip by,” he says.
The French example
In France, there are more than 250 racetracks nationwide and a racing channel with 10 million subscribers. French racing also generates more than 60,000 jobs and has a turnover of 7.5 thousand million euros. If Portugal reached just seven per cent of this sum, the industry would generate revenue equivalent to one per cent of GDP.
Fernando de Figueiredo says that the legalisation of betting would also give a strong and much needed boost to Portuguese agriculture, currently reeling from drought and fires.