Stanley Ho

Ho sees HK races attracting $7.8b in Macau

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 February, 2004, 12:00am

Macau Jockey Club chairman Stanley Ho Hung-sun boldly predicts that his club will hold at least $100 million per meeting when it starts betting on Hong Kong racing in around two months time.

Ho's estimate - which equates to $7.8 billion across the HKJC's 78 race meetings per year - is more than double the prediction made by Hong Kong Jockey Club chairman Ronald Arculli last week. But the casino king saw no reason to back away from the prediction, made during the recording session of a joint interview with Arculli for Cable TV yesterday.

'In fact, $100 million per meeting may be on the low side because I'm sure we will be attracting customers from across the Pearl River delta,' Ho added.

The other revelation in the interview with Ho was that the MJC will be seeking a licence to sell Mark Six tickets in Macau as an agent for the Hong Kong government.

Earlier in the day, Arculli had presided over the barrier draw function for the inaugural Hong Kong-Macau Trophy at Sha Tin, using the occasion for an expansive interview about a range of topics.

Sunday's $2.3 million goodwill race between six of Macau's best horses and a collection of Hong Kong's second-tier animals is the feel-good part of the first piece of co-operation between the two racing jurisdictions.

The more important part is going on behind the scenes, as the IT departments of both clubs lay the technological and economic foundations for Macau betting on Hong Kong racing.

'There are three stages of this operation,' Arculli said. 'The first is the technology phase, where we work out how to link Macau and Hong Kong efficiently, and with all the integrity safeguards in place.

'The second is a negotiation phase, on how we split the revenue. The Gambling Ordinance provides special taxation conditions when an overseas operator is betting on Hong Kong racing, into our pools, that the government only requires 50 per cent of the normal betting duty. So we must agree on how we divide the revenue generated in Macau.

'And thirdly, when we have agreed and signed a memorandum of understanding, we need to take the proposal - with our recommendations - to both governments and seek their approval. At the moment, we are at the latter part of the first stage.'

Racing's revenue streams is becoming a pressing issue, as the effect of soccer betting takes hold and wagering on horse racing is negatively affected. Soccer betting has an edge in that it is more realistically taxed than betting on horse racing. Hong Kong horse racing is one of the most highly taxed in the world.

'Turnover continues to be a worry, particularly over the past couple of months,' Arculli said. 'The drop in December and January was a double-digit one.'

The Jockey Club has made substantial presentations to the Hong Kong government for the need for taxation reform of race wagering, but has received little joy.

'One of the challenges when dealing with this government - or any government for that matter - is to get them to accept a certain state of affairs,' he said. 'For the last few years, wagering turnover has gone down and it was generally held that was a reflection of the general economic conditions.

'But the economic mood today is very buoyant, yet the turnover is still going south. So you know the problem has to be something structural [taxation] rather than external or environmental.'

Arculli is more than satisfied with the general interest the Hong Kong-Macau race has generated.

'I think there has long been a curiosity about Hong Kong and Macau, particularly about the quality of horses in the two areas,' he said. 'Personally I have a reservation about the Macau horses getting a break of 17 pounds [in the handicap]. I think it errs on the side of generosity. But we will see.'

Macau will host the return race of the goodwill series in two months.