Natural for punters to fight the Jockey Club stranglehold

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 June, 2010, 12:00am

Police warn punters that water may not flow downhill

SCMP headline, June 1, 2010

That's what it really said, honest. I would never lie to you about something like that. It was the exact meaning of the words in this headline.

Of course, it may be true that these were not the exact words used. I only told you that this was what the headline really said, that this was its meaning.

The actual wording was perhaps slightly different. What it said was: 'Police warn punters over soccer betting on overseas websites.'

But I'm sure you'll agree that my statement of what these words mean was the more accurate.

Our police force has conceived it its duty to attempt the impossible, telling local betters the approach of the World Cup makes no difference and they must not place bets with offshore soccer bookmakers.

An uphill problem for the force here is that local bookmaking syndicates increasingly no longer work on pencil, paper and telephones at hidden locations in town.

They have learned to set up websites outside Hong Kong.

Commenting on this, our story quoted triad bureau superintendent Man Tat-shing as admitting that cyber gambling is a challenge for police. Oh, indeed?

Here are some further gems from the superintendent:

'Asked how police traced the punters, Man said banks and credit card companies would report any suspicious transactions.'

There is apparently nothing our bank and credit card companies like more than driving their own business away. They are all on the look-out for 'suspicious transactions' that they can report and so lose customers who will be induced to go elsewhere.

'Police would also contact internet service providers in the city regarding websites that might be involved in such illegal activities.'

And it's not only banks. Internet service providers also want to lose customers. They are, in any case, particularly grateful to the police for giving them trouble over file transfers of music tracks and videos. They look forward to returning the favour.

'Man also urged the public to report illegal betting.'

Yes, I, a typical member of the public, relish the prospect of annoying neighbours and losing friends. I would also dearly love to come to the notice of triad thugs.

'The amount of illegal soccer bets discovered by the police's anti-illegal bookmaking operations continued decreasing after hitting a peak in 2007 of HK$223.3 million. This was due to the force's enhanced efforts in fighting illegal soccer gambling, Man said.'

Perish the thought, of course, Sir, but might there be any chance that you caught fewer because more got away?

The underlying difficulty here is that the Jockey Club, which has a lockhold on all legal gambling activities in Hong Kong aside from a few raffles, offers punters an average payout rate of only 81.5 cents on the dollar. The remaining 18.5 cents goes to the government, to the club's own operating costs and to club charities.

You may wish to note here that appropriations to the charity trust, the club's justification for keeping a monopoly on gambling, amounted to less than half of 1 per cent of betting turnover last year.

Okay, that was just a sideswipe I couldn't resist. The real point is that it is not difficult to go into competition with bookmakers who clean up an average of 18.5 cents from every dollar you bet with them.

If the Jockey Club is troubled by illegal competition, well, what can you say but that the Jockey Club invites it?

And the reason that those of us who observe the law have to put up with this is that the Hong Kong government is more addicted to gambling than a punter who has never missed a race meeting in his adult life. Fiscal income from bets and sweeps amounted to 4.8 per cent of operating revenue last year.

But that figure is well down from 7.6 per cent eight years ago and if the illegal competition continues to build up (water flows downhill whatever the cops may say), the government's reliance on betting income will continue to decline.

Just think of that. You too can do your part to cure a dangerous addiction. Put your money on World Cup results the easy Web way, the offshore way that also offers better odds, and at the same time you help wean the Hong Kong government from a nasty dependency.

Better stop that line, I suppose. It borders on advising people to commit a crime, which is itself a crime. Let's have a laugh instead. In this modern age of porous borders, our government thinks it can stop people from placing their bets with the bookies of their choice. It thinks it can stop water from flowing downhill.

Tee-hee-hee, that's a good one.