Hong Kong Handle Down, But Club Optimistic

Though handle was down for its most recent racing season, the Hong Kong Jockey Club remains optimistic in the wake of product expansion, including wagering on soccer games, the organization's top official said Aug. 28 during the club's annual general meeting.

Handle for the season fell 8.6% from the previous season to HK$71.465 billion. In turn, revenue to the government fell 9.4% to HK$9.517 billion. Club chairman Ronald Arculli attributed the decline to the economic downturn and the impact of unauthorized offshore and illegal bookmakers.

The Jockey Club this year launched soccer betting on overseas matches. Arculli called it the most significant development for the club since off-course betting was instituted in 1973. Initially, in a step-by-step approach, four types of bets on soccer matches were offered.

"There has already been much debate in the media that four is uncompetitive and inadequate to tackle illegal betting," Arculli said. "The club is acutely aware of this, and we will add bet types as and when we are ready."

Arculli said he is disappointed by the government's decision to increase the tax on exotic wagers by 1%. "At 20%, this is one of the highest betting duties in the world, and serves only to erode customer interest and to provide further opportunities for illegal bookmakers," Arculli said.

On the racing side, Arculli cited wins by Hong Kong horses in three of the four group 1 races during the Hong Kong International Races meet last December as a demonstration of the success of the club's efforts to raise the quality of its racing. Five years ago, Hong Kong had no international group I races but now has five.

Hong Kong had initiated a worldwide good neighbor policy among racing jurisdictions to combat the threat of illegal and unauthorized offshore betting. Hong Kong and Japan were the first to sign, followed by Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, India, Turkey, and Korea.

Arculli said there is growing overseas interest in Hong Kong racing, and that the Jockey Club is exploring the possibility of simulcasting its races to more countries. It is considering opening some pools to overseas customers, though that would be done only in accordance with good neighbor policy.

"The long-term prognosis for the club remains extremely positive," Arculli said. "We have built a remarkably successful racing product, and we are continuing to invest in its development."