2014 Opening at Yeongcheon to Have Big Impact on Seoul
The Korea Racing Authority (KRA) recently confirmed that the nation’s third thoroughbred race track is to be built outside the city of Yeongcheon, North Gyeongsang Province. Given ever-stronger anti-gambling sentiment in government, the opening of Yeongcheon could have major implications for the future of horse racing in Korea.
It may sound counter-intuitive but it is precisely becase of ever increased government regulation that the track is being built. The puritans on the National Gaming Control Commission (NGCC), who last year ordered the KRA to close down its internet betting operations, has also ordered the KRA to decrease the amount of off-track betting activity. It has “recommended” that the ratio of off-course to on-course betting turnover be no greater than 50-50 by 2013. Currently approximately 70% of all wagering is done off-track at the “KRA Plaza” betting outlets located around the country. Privately many in the KRA believe that the NGCC will not stop until all (legal) off-track betting is ended.
A new racecourse therefore has become necessary. Ostensibly, Yeongcheon was chosen due to its location close to Daegu, Korea’s third-largest city, although many believed that a second track in the Seoul/Gyeonggi area, where 50% of the country’s population lives would have been a better option.
The opening of Yeongcheon Racecourse Park – as it will officially be called – could also see some fundamental changes made to the structure of Korean racing. Not only is the KRA required to minimise off-track operations, it is also required to minimise those on-track. The NGCC has long been pushing for a revenue cap on the KRA, that is, it would only be allowed to accept a certain value of bets within a one-year period. While the NGCC might be insane, the government, who have to rubber-stamp any proposal, enjoys the substantial tax revenues it receives from racing. Instead a compromise of a firm cap on the number of races that can be run looks inevitable. This means that Yeongcheon’s opening will dramatically reduce the number of races run at Seoul.
Currently, plans are for each of the three thoroughbred tracks – Seoul, Busan and Yeongcheon – to run 87 days of racing in a year. This is similar to what Seoul does now but instead of the current 11 or 12 races in a day, they will be limited to 8. This means that all three tracks will run 696 races per year for a total on the peninsula of 2392. Each track is also set to get a three or four month shutdown at some point during the year. Accordingly, a large number of trainers will need to be redistributed away from Seoul.
Plans for Yeongcheon include an official opening in 2014 with an international race to be run within the same year. This would perhaps be the same “international race” that the KRA has been planning to hold every year since 2004 as part of its “internationalization” plan. Overall, while it is bad news for Seoul based punters, perhaps anything that reduces that capital track’s stranglehold over Korean racing is a potential blessing. The vested interests and pre-historic Unions that essentially hold the power at Seoul have long meant that any positive developments in improving the quality of racing in Korea have been frustrated.
Despite their best efforts, particularly earlier this year, Union power at Busan has so far been limited since that track opened in 2005. With a third track to worry about and a smaller power base at Seoul to work from, it could be time for the KRA to wrest back control of Korean racing. If it really wants to.
* Meanwhile, the NGCC’s plans to equate legal gamblers with criminals continue. From next month, trials of Electronic ID cards, which the NGCC plans to make mandatory for any Korean citizen wishing to indulge in a legal wager, will begin. More on this soon.