Open your eyes and see the benefits of supporting a responsible Club

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2009, 12:00am

Last week's revelations on the extent to which Macau's casino industry is plundering the wallets and purses of mainstream Hongkongers - up to HK$25 billion per year - may have brought gasps of shock and horror, but what is our government going to do about it?

The revelations, made by the Jockey Club through its own research, will be put to the Gaming Commission, a branch of government, in a bid to prove the Jockey Club promotes high-quality racing and sporting entertainment and, yes, responsible gambling is a core activity.

And the Jockey Club is getting more than slightly miffed that it is getting taxed, perhaps not out of existence but to a point of severe discomfort, while getting inappropriately blamed for the social consequences of problem gambling.

In its submission to the Gaming Commission, the Jockey Club will point out that in the last decade losses sustained each year by Hong Kong citizens in Macau have skyrocketed, from HK$4.5 billion to a figure that lies somewhere within the boundaries of HK$18 billion and HK$25 billion.

Within that same timeframe, the total losses of Jockey Club customers each year have only risen around 11 per cent to HK$20 billion, even though they now have soccer and horse racing to choose from on their wagering menu.

The injustice is that despite its incredible success and recognition as a world leader in horse racing, the Jockey Club is weighed down by governmental controls, with strings being pulled by some Legislative Council members who can best be described as single-issue fanatics.

During the Jockey Club's fight for a change to the taxation structure (from turnover based to tax on profits) three years ago, I gained an unforgettable insight into the simple minds of these people. I was a guest on a radio programme on RTHK, where other contributors were then-Jockey Club chairman Ronald Arculli and Legco member James To Kun-sun.

Arculli, an articulate and intelligent man, outlined his case extremely well. To support him was the proverbial 'no brainer', with a vote for change giving the Jockey Club some ammunition with which to fight the rampaging illegal betting market, as well as laying the foundation for a stronger, more vibrant Jockey Club.

When the programme host went back to To and asked if he would support the Jockey Club at Legco, he replied: 'If this has the potential to promote gambling, then I would vote against it.' Arculli's logical and persuasive arguments had been absolutely wasted.

The same lawmakers that do nothing to assist the Jockey Club are at least consistent. They are also doing nothing to help stem the tide of unlicensed and unregulated junket operators who take Hongkongers to Macau, plying them with incentives and - worst of all - lines of credit with which to bet.

Betting itself is not a social problem. If someone has HK$100 and wants to bet with the Jockey Club, if that $100 is lost then that's the end of that day's betting entertainment. There is no credit given to anyone for betting with the Jockey Club.

Credit is, however, available with illegal bookmakers and certain casinos and it's sinister. It not only allows but actively encourages simple folk to bet beyond their means and then the Mr Nice Guys who encouraged the players into the traps are replaced by people who are far from nice and intend to collect whether the client has the funds or not.

Last year, the Jockey Club paid HK$13.1 billion in tax, making it the largest single taxpayer in Hong Kong and responsible for about 6.5 per cent of all taxes collected by the Inland Revenue Department. Every year, at least HK$1 billion goes to charities and community projects - look around, the Jockey Club stamp is everywhere.

When Sars hit Hong Kong in 2003, the Jockey Club was the first to stump up a huge donation to fight the disease. It again showed the generous leadership during the big Chinese New Year freeze 12 months ago, and again in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake last year.

In fact, the club ranks alongside organisations such as the Rockefeller Foundation as the biggest charity donors in the world.

The club is also one of the largest employers in Hong Kong, with 4,800 full-time and 20,200 part-time staff. And the club has given a commitment there will be no reduction in employment levels as Hong Kong fights its way through the financial crisis.

Isn't this an organisation worth supporting in the name of the bigger picture: that a healthy, vibrant Jockey Club is an integral part of a happy, successful and harmonious Hong Kong? To secure this, citizens should make their politicians accountable, letting them know beyond any doubt that single-issue fanatics are unfit to represent us.