China carrot in cross-bet deal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 April, 2004, 12:00am

The cross-betting arrangement between Hong Kong and Macau will offer the Hong Kong Jockey Club indirect access to gamblers in the mass population centres of southeast China.

Casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun has estimated a $100 million-a-day handle for Macau as a conduit for bets into Hong Kong pools. The major benefit for Hong Kong is likely to come through the five licensed bookmakers, or betting agents, at Taipa racecourse who have been running telephone betting on Macau racing for off-course clients since May last year.

'I don't think it's any secret that quite a bit of the money they hold over the phone is from over the border in China,' said Macau Jockey Club (MJC) director of racing Ian Paterson yesterday. 'That money has been the driving force behind the lift in Macau Jockey Club holdings in the past year.'

Those holdings, almost halved to $25 million a race meeting after amendments to Hong Kong's Betting Ordinance in May, 2002, are now around $120 million a meeting on a normal Macau raceday.

'Now, I'm not sure if you can directly translate that $95 million a day difference to what's coming from over the border, because the agents bet to balance their books more on some horses than others and so on,' Paterson said when pressed on a figure for Macau's mainland-sourced turnover. 'It's hard to really put a figure on it, but I would not be surprised if our true turnover now coming from China is a multiple of two or three times what our turnover was before the agents were licensed.'

Paterson said the agreement would be signed by both sides this week, then go to each government for approval of the scheme, from which Macau will derive its income by a commission on bets handled.

'On any Hong Kong race day, we will have our 14 off-course betting centres open around Macau, the racecourse will be open with all the usual services and those betting agents will be operating for their off-course clients,' Paterson said. 'Those agents will be able to take telephone bets on Hong Kong, and they will be trying to balance their books by betting back into the Hong Kong pools through Macau.'

The agreement may also offer a back door for the Hong Kong Jockey Club to bury the bones of one of its questionable customer relations practices past - closing the legal betting accounts of high-volume professional gamblers.

The club alienated a number of large bettors during the past decade, with the resultant loss of their business contributing to an accelerating fall in turnover during the past six completed seasons. Turnover figures will be down significantly again this season. 'Yes, it is possible that outside people who have had trouble with their accounts could find a new avenue to bet into the Hong Kong racing pools by opening up accounts with us in Macau,' Paterson confirmed.

The MJC turnover on Sunday was $154 million - just $1 million shy of the club's record - but Paterson believes that, overall, it was the best meeting Macau has held in his time there. 'The crowd was bigger than any Derby meeting, which is usually our biggest, and there was a better atmosphere than any day I can remember,' he said.

The club probably helped its own turnover early in the day by the generous 'rebate' for punters who bet prior to the Macau-Hong Kong Trophy. For each $200 bet, punters were handed a $50 betting voucher to use on the main race.