The 40-plus-year history of horse racing in Macau will come to an end on 1 April this year, with the government having cancelled the concession of the Macau Jockey Club due to mounting losses. In this special feature, Inside Asian Gaming speaks with veteran horse racing fans, employees and newcomers to the sport about their experiences with the MJC.
“There is a tinge of sadness,” Mr Chan, a seasoned horse racing fan, told IAG during a day at the race course. “Macau has lost another offering that its residents had fun with.”
On 20 January, the Macau Jockey Club (MJC) held its first race meet since the announcement just 24 hours earlier of its impending closure, from 1 April 2024, due to mounting losses. The racecourse was livelier than usual that day, with not only veteran horse racing fans and tourists in attendance but numerous Macau residents who specifically came to watch the races.
Mr Chan visits the racecourse in person on every race day. He believes he can only assess whether his favorite horses are in good form by observing them in close proximity.
“It’s a pity that we won’t be able to walk into the racecourse and enjoy the races like this anymore,” he said. Mr Chan has been a dedicated horse racing enthusiast since the era of the Macau Trotting Club, and he also bets on Hong Kong races.
The predecessor of the Macau Jockey Club, the Macau Trotting Club, was established in 1980 by then Macau governor Nuno Viriato Tavares de Melo Egídio and renowned Macau gambling tycoon Yip Hon. It was the first harness racing venue in Asia but failed to gain traction in the city due to deteriorating operations.
Taiwanese businessman Zeng Xiaocun took over the Macau Trotting Club in 1988 and transformed the operation into traditional horse racing activities. However, financial turmoil persisted and eventually Macau’s casino magnate Dr Stanley Ho acquired the business. His companies have run Macau Horse Racing Company Limited ever since.
“Horse racing is a memory for the older generation in Macau. It was very popular in Macau during the 1990s, but the younger generation doesn’t enjoy horse racing anymore,” Mr Chan said of the recent decline.
Acknowledging this is the result of changing times, he added. “It’s inevitable. In fact, we speculated last year about this outcome for the Macau Jockey Club, which did not import any new horses. It has only kept about the same 200-plus horses for the operation.”
Ung Sau Hong, member of the Administration Committee of the Municipal Affairs Bureau, pointed out in last month’s press conference that the Macau Jockey Club currently has 289 horses, which will now be required to be transported to mainland China by no later than 31 March 2025. It was reported last August that the Macau government was no longer permitting the importation of new horses.
“Without greyhound racing and now horse racing, this may spell the end of an era. It possibly indicates the gradual elimination of any betting activities involving animals worldwide,” Mr Chan observed.
Despite the absence of horse racing in Macau, he still hopes there will be a place in Macau where horse racing enthusiasts can bet on the Hong Kong races.
However, it is clear that horse racing does not resonate with the young generation in Macau.
“Frankly, I have never set foot in the Macau Jockey Club even though I live nearby,” said Thomas, a Macau resident in his twenties.
Like many young people in Macau, Thomas doesn’t know a whole lot about the industry and even believed the Macau Jockey Club and sports betting concession Macau Slot were the same company.
However, on the 20 January race day, he finally visited the racecourse with his friends, placed bets, and watched the races for the first time. Having his first experience with horse racing, he admitted, “I’ve never expected that watching horse races after placing bets can be so exhilarating.”
It wasn’t a winning day for Thomas, however he told IAG he enjoyed the experience.
“The entire process is really exciting. Even though I have lost, it still brings me joy,” he explained.
Nevertheless, while news of the MJC’s closure came as a surprise, he doesn’t consider it a big loss.
“I think perhaps our generation, those born in and after the 2000s, don’t have much knowledge about the Jockey Club so its closure doesn’t make a big difference in our lives,” he remarked.
Macau’s Secretary for Administration and Justice, Andre Cheong Weng Chon, said during the government’s 19 January press conference, “The appeal of horse racing to residents and tourists has declined. The total attendance of local races in 2020 was 38,000, which further decreased to 29,000 in 2023.”
MJC currently has 254 local employees whose futures are now up in the air, although Wong Chi Hong, director of the Labor Affairs Bureau, stated MJC is committed to complying with legal regulations for severance compensation and will coordinate the referral of its employees to other companies affiliated with its shareholders.
But employees are concerned.
“I don’t think I will be successfully referred or be able to work in other companies easily,” said one employee who has been with MJC for 10 years. “It will require a lot of assistance from the Labor Affairs Bureau in referral.”
The employee believes the process may take some time, leaving them with plenty of uncertainty.
“Many staff members had speculated MJC would wind down, but we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly,” they said.
“There is definitely a sense of regret, but this outcome seems not to be unexpected with the declining business over the past three years.”
The MJC will cease operations from 1 April, at which time all eyes will be on the fate of staff, the movement of horses and what the government plans to do with this plot of land that will become one of the largest and most valuable unused spaces in Macau.