Increased betting turnover reflects a healthy economy
Fairly early in this Sunday's meeting at Sha Tin should see betting turnover for the season slip past the HK$63.998 billion the Jockey Club took in 2006-07 and on target for a final figure in sight of HK$68 billion.
The figure stands at close to exactly HK$1 billion short of last season's total, most of which will be clawed back tonight at Happy Valley, and a rise year on year of 5.98 per cent.
Early in the season, with increases running at double figure percentages for the first handful of meetings, perhaps more might have been expected. But by meeting 20, the overall increase had dropped back to eight per cent and by meeting 40 to just over six per cent, and has stabilised at that level since.
The fallout effect from Australia's equine influenza crisis has to a large extent not materialised, with field sizes holding up strongly despite the fact that imports of new Australian horses were severely affected by a six-month ban.
With a direct correlation between field sizes and turnover, club officials had been holding their collective breath for the time late in the term when the established horses would be tiring and potentially less able to race as often.
There have been some meetings recently where full fields of 14 have been harder to find at Sha Tin, but they have been few. Only in griffin racing, a relatively minor portion of the calendar which often relies on Australian two-year-olds to build the numbers up, has the EI effect been more obvious.
The club has not released any considered figures measuring the effects of the two seasons of high-value ticket rebates, but no doubt that factor has played a strong role, along with a booming economy. (Though we still muse on where turnover might be had the club been able to implement its wagering restructuring with a reduced takeout from pools instead of the rebate, which effectively brings no increase from the largest group of Jockey Club customers).
Two consecutive seasons of turnover increase is an event which will occur for the first time since the 1997 handover, and that HK$68 billion figure will be the highest total since pre-Sars days, and with a great deal more legal competition for turnover than was ever the case 11 years ago.
With double taxation of commingled pools still a stumbling block to be overcome before it gets off the ground, the future still holds the promise of further turnover increases once that is worked out and new money from the North American casinos and other jurisdictions like Australia, in particular, begin to flow in. The new bet of the Jockey Challenge is becoming a relatively small but worthwhile contributor each meeting to turnover growth and, with further forays planned into similar fixed-odds wagering, it is a sector which might in a short period of time be adding a billion on its own to the final tally.
All in all, the racing economy is regaining a positive shape, with the prospect of prize money increases across the board now in the wind - an area which has lagged during the climb out of the doldrums - and only a helping hand from the government here and there required to keep the momentum going.