• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 9:05pm

Don't bet on Home Affairs seeing the light on simulcast

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2009, 12:00am

Conduct a straw poll among racing fans as to whether the Home Affairs Bureau will let them bet on Sacred Kingdom at Royal Ascot next month, and the overwhelming opinion would be 'of course'.

However, those of long and often bitter experience at the Jockey Club are betting otherwise and exactly what that says about their confidence in the administration of Hong Kong is better left unstated.

Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges and executive director of racing Bill Nader are 'hopeful' a common-sense solution will be found as they apply for one extra simulcast date for this season under special circumstances. Each is a passionate racing industry man, right down to their shoe laces, and their experience is that a decision such as this should be the proverbial 'no brainer'.

However, our mail is that their optimism is seen by experienced locals at the club as 'gweilo naivety' and the tip from the Sports Road hard boots is the Home Affairs Bureau will fearfully defer to the anti-gambling lobby and opt for the status quo.

That means this season's allocation of 10 simulcast days will be fully expended after the running of the Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo on June 7 and the pleas for an extra date, to broadcast and offer betting on Sacred Kingdom's race on June 21, would be denied. If that proves to be true it would render Hong Kong a laughing stock.

The column also wants to believe that Tsang Tak-sing, the Secretary for Home Affairs, would have an open mind on the subject and see that offering betting on the Golden Jubilee Stakes is the only sensible decision to make.

Sacred Kingdom is Hong Kong's latest thoroughbred champion. He defeated the world's best on home soil in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint in December, 2007, and reclaimed his pedestal in a thrilling KrisFlyer Sprint in Singapore on May 17.

Now, owner Sin Kang-yuk and trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fie have bravely decided to go for racing's ultimate glory, a win at Group One level at the world's most prestigious race meeting, held at the racecourse owned by the Queen. It's a quest that should make every Hongkonger proud.

The Jockey Club has done everything it can to promote racing as the world sport it undoubtedly is. It has harnessed and channelled the gambling on that sport and from those huge betting turnovers, Hong Kong is the big winner.

For racing industry professionals, the numbers might become slightly boring but to outsiders or newcomers to the city, they defy belief. Last year the Jockey Club handed over HK$13.1 billion in taxes to the government - 6.5 per cent of total government revenue - making it the SAR's largest single taxpayer.

For many years, it has given a minimum HK$1 billion a year to charities and the club's donations now sees it rank alongside Rockefeller as one of the world's biggest charity donors.

Then there is the less obvious social contribution - what would Hong Kong's employment rate look like if the Jockey Club did not provide 4,800 full-time salaries and another 20,200 part-time positions?

With captains of industry on the board of stewards, headed by widely respected John Chan Cho-chak and his deputy, Brian Stevenson, the club's record of success cannot be questioned.

But still we watch, in unspeakable astonishment, as this leadership group is denied the basic management tool of deciding what the club can bet on, forced by law to leave those tiny decisions to a fundamentally disinterested Home Affairs Bureau that responds better to noisy protest groups like the anti-gambling lobby than it does to society's biggest single contributor.

And yes, we're still waiting for that decision about the Jockey Club's request for five more race meetings per season and 10 extra simulcast dates, as we have been for most of the season.

Tsang should have been in Singapore two weeks ago, where his bureau's inaction was the subject of much derision among the island republic leaders at their international racing carnival. Perhaps then he might have better understood how his two years as chief are being viewed, both at home and abroad, and understand the time for action to begin healing that image is now.

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