Hong Kong Seeks Ways to Bolster Legal Gambling

Hong Kong's government is considering tax reform, a longer racing season, and new betting methods as it attempts to boost legal wagering on horse racing after losing ground to illegal and overseas gambling operators.

The government wants to switch from levying a tax on betting turnover to taxing profits after payouts, which would give the Hong Kong Jockey Club more flexibility in paying betters, Hong Kong's Home Affairs Bureau said in a briefing paper for lawmakers released May 11.

The department also proposes adding five days to the racing calendar and introducing new betting methods, such as fixed-odds betting, the Home Affairs Bureau said.

The bureau said handle plunged 30% from 1996-97 to 65 billion Hong Kong dollars (US$8.3 billion; euro6.5 billion) in 2003-04, while government revenue from betting dropped from HK$12.3 billion (US$1.6 billion; euro1.24 billion) to HK$8.78 billion (US$1.13 billion; euro882 million).

Meanwhile, the amount of cash and betting slips seized from illegal soccer and horse gambling operators jumped from HK$9.38 million (US$1.20 million; euro942,000) in 2001 to HK$19.7 million (US$2.53 million; euro1.98 million) in 2004, according to the government.

The government said handle is projected to drop another 30% by 2007-08 if no action is taken.

Anti-gambling activist Wong Hak-lim said the government is overstating the problem of illegal gambling, and claimed declining revenue from horse racing is being made up by gambling on soccer, which was launched in Hong Kong about two years ago.