Lebanon News

Horse-racing at Hippodrome could face its final stretch

Horse-racing in Lebanon will be a thing of the past by the end of the month if the government fails to act on the Beirut Hippodrome, according to the representatives of groups connected to the problem-plagued facility.

After a meeting on Monday to discuss their latest grievances, the group said that after a six-month temporary solution ended in June, the government has not made any suggestions for a short-term or long-term solution that would keep the track open.

“If the government doesn’t take a decision, we’ll be out of business by the end of the month. Oct. 31 will see the last horse-race in Beirut,” one participant in the meeting told The Daily Star.

The 14 percent tax levied by the government means “intolerable” losses, he said.

The Association for the Protection and Improvement of Arabian Horses, known by its French acronym SPARCA, called for the meeting, which was attended by representatives of gamblers, horse-breeders, and employees who work at the Hippodrome.

Although the group has complained about an impending closure on several earlier occasions, the participant said that a decision to maintain “open session” until the crisis ends signaled the seriousness of the situation.

In a statement, the conferees singled out President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Salim Hoss and the ministers of economy, agriculture and justice for praise, saying that they had helped provide a temporary solution.

At the beginning of the year, the Cabinet lowered the tax paid by the association from 14 to 7 percent, acting on a suggestion by Finance Minister George Corm. But, they added, the Cabinet’s failure to act in the second half of the year had led to another round of crisis, with closure imminent.

“The Hippodrome is not like turning an engine on and off. If we go out of business, it will be very difficult to make a comeback,” the insider said.

“We’ll have paid $2 million by the end of the year, if this keeps up,” he said.

Attempts to lobby top officials to produce a breakthrough “have yet to produce any positive results,” he said.

The options, which range from endorsing another grace period, letting the Beirut Municipality supervise a build-operate-transfer project to lure investors, or another permanent solution, remain on the table.

The group said that in addition to the 3,000 people whose livelihood depends on the facility, the Treasury would be the big loser if the Hippodrome closes.

Meanwhile, the authorities’ failure to crack down on illegal betting remains another source of disappointment, the group said.





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