France - French pledge state support for beleaguered horse racing

3 Feb 00
Receipts on France's state-run Pari-Mutuel (PMU) horse race betting network are rising, which is good news for the French ministry of finance. The bad news is that the rise is only slight and the French racing authority, France Galop, will still nee

04 February 2000

Receipts on France's state-run Pari-Mutuel (PMU) horse race betting network are rising, which is good news for the French ministry of finance.

The bad news is that the rise is only slight and the French racing authority, France Galop, will still need Ffr250m [e38.2m] over the next four years to keep it afloat.

The government takes Ffr17 out of every Ffr100 wagered on flat, jumping or trotting races in France. Ffr13 goes back into racing, which leaves just Ffr70 for winning punters – the lowest return in Europe.

There has been serious concern in recent years that, faced by competition from national and local lotteries, the amount of money wagered by the public on horses has been in decline. With the government's cut falling, there has been a temptation to increase its deduction from the pool.

As recently as 1997, betting figures were down by 1.7%, but the figures for 1999 are up by around 1.5%. In France, betting on trotting is the more popular and figures for 1999 look likely to show a rise of 3% to 4%.

But although these rises will bring increases in prize money for owners and breeders – as well as profit for the state – the finances of the French racing industry are uncertain. The PMU system, for so long the mechanism that kept France among the top racing and breeding countries in the world, is still prone to breakdowns.

On September 13, 1999 – one of the year's top betting days – a PMU breakdown in the morning cost French racing dear, as thousands of potential investors bought their racing papers and adjourned to the bars and cafes where they can bet over a drink or coffee.

The national total for bets on the day's big meeting at Longchamp, at Ffr120m, was 27% down on 1998, and the Ffr4m bet at the track itself represented a drop of 33%.

In addition, the new Pegasus computer system – designed to speed up the PMU system and make it more efficient – will push the running costs of racing to above 7% of the total wagered.

However, the government is committed to maintaining support. French racing received Ffr2.263bn from the PMU in 1998.

'By means of different specific aid packages, the government will play its part in preserving the institution of racing and breeding,' said Jean Glavany, minister of agriculture and fisheries.

By David Meilton in Paris

PFfeb2000

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