Portugal is planning its first ever racecourse — not as a result of the country’s strong horse tradition but in response to the IT revolution.
Last year, the Portuguese treasury calculated that it could be losing 250 million a year in taxes because residents are betting online on racing and other sporting events in Spain and European countries.
Its solution is to build its own racecourse from scratch, to claw back gaming revenue both from on-course betting — with a state-run betting monopoly — and other media deals.
Last month, legislation allowing betting on horse races was approved by Portugal’s council of ministers. When it becomes law, there will be 120 days for regulations to be prepared and tenders invited for the racecourse construction, which will be partly state-subsidised. French and American consortia have already expressed an interest.
Although Lisbon, the capital and principal population centre, is an obvious choice of location, it will take a while to establish a Thoroughbred base in Portugal — at least 1,000 horses would need to be in training to service the year-round programme required. Therefore, any new track would need to be accessible from one of the principal centres in Spain.
Some commentators favour the Algarve — Faro is only a 2hr drive from the Spanish track at Mijas. Golega, home of Portugal’s famous national horse fair, is also expected to put itself forward.
After taxes have been deducted, 70% of gaming revenue will be returned to the sport in prize-money. The racecourse will get 10% and the balance will go to good causes.
Meanwhile there is discontent that draft legislation makes betting on overseas events illegal four years after the racecourse opens. Opponents say the time limit is unviable and unenforceable.