Behind the doom and gloom is a win in betting turnover

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am

Had you just arrived from out of town in time to catch the doom and gloom of a Jockey Club surplus crashing around us and the looming plight of its extensive community work, you might have been surprised to learn on Wednesday that things are reasonably healthy with racing's turnover.

Healthy in a relative sense, certainly. In a business environment where the pillars of the world's banking and manufacturing structures have tumbled or been rescued just in time, a drop in turnover of just 1.28 per cent year-on-year surely counts as a win.

But time and perspective have a way of making numbers mean different things.

When turnover made its first significant rise in a decade, in 2007 - the first year of rebates following a tax restructuring - a figure just shy of HK$64 billion brought dancing in the streets.

In 2009, HK$66.82 billion in bets brought a muted joy. Officials have had a hard time admitting things are pretty good at the same time as conducting a campaign - begun on the same ticket as the restructuring in 2005 - for five additional meetings and a widening of simulcasting dates that are now understood to be on their way next season.

Behind the jungle of figures, pari-mutuel turnover was down a little more, at 1.7 per cent. The difference lies in the expansion of the fixed-odds Jockey Challenge, which operated only for a small part of last season but for every meeting this term. More than that, the Jockey Challenge has whetted the public appetite for fixed odds - growing from HK$5 million a day to HK$8 million on the season's last day.

Of concern will be the softening of super exotics, with the Triple Trio again taking a hit and even the response to jackpots short of expectations on occasions.

That matters because the club earns more out of those pools than the win, place, quinella and quinella place bets for which it has to return a certain proportion in rebates.

The other event was with place betting, where calculation methods were altered to have more in common with reality, so that favourite punters were not heavily subsidised by those betting longer-priced runners.

But we believe the extra value of non-favourite place odds has not attracted sufficient betting interest to offset the loss of turnover as favourite place backers deserted the pool due to their lower payouts.

After 30 plus years under the old regime, perhaps punters will take more time to adjust to the new one, but a show of hands at Sports Road to change it back would probably only vote one way at present.

Fixed in stone

The Jockey Challenge whetted the public's appetite, with bets on the season's last day reaching (in HK$): 8m

Still going strong

Pari-mutuel turnover was down from last season: 1.7%