All horse races have been suspended at the Hipódromo Argentino de Palermo race track in Sicily, after police investigating mafia activity discovered evidence of illegal gambling and organised crime bosses rigging races.
Italian police made 25 arrests linked to the mafia clans of Resuttana-San Lorenzo last month, with the extent of mafia involvement in Sicilian racing emerging shortly after. Since then, the 15,000-capacity course has remained closed until further notice.
Antonella De Miro, head of the Palermo prefecture, described the situation to the Guardian, saying: “We are in the presence of a system of conditioning and mafia infiltration.”
The mafia have previously been involved with illegal street horse racing, where horses are often drugged and abused and forced to run with illegal bets placed on who will win.
Ciro Troiano, head of the National Animal Guardians Service at LAV, one of Italy’s major animal rights organisations, also spoke to the Guardian, claiming the recent allegations were far from surprising.
“The Sicilian, Neapolitan and Calabrian mafias have had their hands on the management of illegal bets for decades. And this, unfortunately, does not only happen in the races within the official racetracks, but also in those that the mobsters organise daily on the asphalt.’’
The service’s most recent report has recorded 1275 horses running in illegal races since 1998 that have been confiscated by police and 3402 reported to the judicial authorities.