China backtracks on horse racing, gambling for island province

2 min

Beijing (AFP)

China has backtracked on plans to promote horse racing and potentially introduce gambling on the southern island of Hainan amid a campaign to develop the destination as a tropical tourism draw.

Although the Communist government has long banned most forms of gambling in mainland China, some had speculated that the push to turn Hainan island into a free trade zone would open the door to such hedonistic pursuits.

But Hainan's Communist Party chief shot down the idea of promoting gambling and horse racing in a speech this week, which was reprinted in the state-owned Hainan Daily on Wednesday.

"There are some discussions on the Internet about opening casinos, engaging in lotteries, allowing horse racing, or going the route of capitalism and allowing full-scale private ownership," said Liu Cigui, party secretary of Hainan.

"These are all divorced from the national condition and reality, and they will never be allowed," said Liu.

The Communist Party Central Committee had announced in April that the province would be encouraged to explore the possibility of allowing such activities as Beijing looks to ramp up consumption to fuel economic growth.

The change of heart -- which comes against the backdrop of a massive national campaign against corruption -- will likely be a blow to Beijing's hopes of turning Hainan into a "centre of international tourism consumption".

Despite sandy beaches and massive spending on plush resorts, the island has not proven an international draw so far, attracting fewer than a million foreign visitors in 2016 -- compared with over seven million in Thailand's Phuket, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.