Kawasaki – Horse racing is booming across Japan with proceeds hitting record levels due to the growth of online betting amid the coronavirus pandemic, with profits giving a boost to the finances of regional governments through added tax revenue.
Local horse racing had been declining following the end of the country’s economic boom in the early 1990s, causing a series of racetracks to shut down.
In many cases, local governments are involved in the organizing of such races, in contrast with major races that are normally hosted by the Japan Racing Association.
In fiscal 2020, which ended last month, the proceeds from local races increased 30.1% from the previous year to ¥912.29 billion, the highest total in nearly 30 years, according to the National Association of Racing, an administrative union of local race operators.
Horse racing is among the so-called legal public gambling avenues in Japan and efforts are also underway to boost popularity, especially with younger people.
But since the outbreak of the virus, operators have hosted races either without spectators or with a limited number of fans, prompting many to bet online instead.
At Kawasaki Racecourse in Kanagawa Prefecture, races were held without spectators for 47 out of 63 operating days in fiscal 2020.
But the course’s proceeds hit a record ¥91.1 billion, of which more than 90% was raised from online betting.
The operator distributes part of the proceeds to the municipal government of Kawasaki and the Kanagawa Prefectural Government. In the last fiscal year, the amount reached a record ¥6.03 billion, up elevenfold from the previous year.
“As the local governments have been facing financial challenges, we increased the amount of profits distributed to them, rather than reserving them as internal funds,” said Yasuhiro Senda, secretary general of the operator.
An official at the National Association of Racing also said, “We have recently seen more operators distributing profits to local governments. Horse racing can contribute to local finances and we consider it our mission.”
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