• Chunichi Shimbun

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Boat Race Tsu, a municipal-run kyōtei (boat race) course in Tsu, Mie Prefecture, is facing difficulties due to plunging sales after it began holding races without audiences to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

The roaring sound of motorboats and live commentary for fans are now heard over empty seats usually filled with boat racing fans, as the contests are broadcast online.

The boat racing course — authorized as a municipal-run gambling venue in 1947 as the first of its kind in the nation — has been making profits in recent years helped by an increase in online sales of betting tickets and sales of betting tickets for races held at other boat racing courses in Japan, providing a new source of revenue for the city.

But Kenichi Takashi, a Tsu Municipal Government official in charge, says, “It depends on the race, but sales have dropped to roughly 70 percent of the usual level.”

Workers at the racecourse are carrying out tasks they can do when there are no spectators, such as repainting the entrance hall, as they wait for the time when they can welcome fans again.

Since its opening a few years after the end of World War II, the racing course has contributed to the city’s coffers. In fiscal 1974, ¥4.6 billion in profit was added to Tsu’s general account budget, which is used to finance the building of schools and roads.

In the 1990s, profits of more than ¥1 billion were added to the city’s budget annually, but its business dwindled in the 2000s amid a nationwide stagnation in public gambling, and from fiscal 2004 it has in the main failed to make enough profit for it to be used in the city’s budget.

In recent years, it managed to improve its performance by investing in a place where people can purchase betting tickets for boat races held across the nation. Its profits totaled ¥100 million in fiscal 2016, enabling it to provide funds to the city’s general account budget for the first time in 13 years.

The city set a target for the racecourse to gain profits of ¥2 billion for the current fiscal year, which started this month, with plans to use the funds to renovate schools and build day care centers, but it is likely the target will be revised downward.

If any of the racers, for instance, gets infected with the coronavirus, it will become difficult to hold the races.

“Many sports events are canceled because of the new coronavirus outbreak. We hope to continue holding the races as much as possible so that people can be entertained,” Takashi said.

It is making stable profits in phone and online sales of betting tickets, which comprise more than 50 percent of total sales. Boat Race Tsu is strengthening infection prevention measures such as the health management of racers and keeping contacts between racers and staff to a minimum.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published April 11.

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