Lifting of Jockey Club taboo a sensible move

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 July, 2010, 12:00am

Horse racing in Hong Kong is part of a non-profit operation that distributes a surplus of more than HK$1 billion a year to charities and social projects, as well as paying a minimum of HK$8 billion in betting duty to the government. Anti-gambling activists still think we would be better off if the Jockey Club's activities were curtailed or could be phased out. For the sake of maintaining public confidence in this cash cow, therefore, it is in the community's best financial interests that the club ensures that horse-racing and gambling are not only clean but seen to be clean.

Hence a taboo that sets Jockey Club employees apart from others - they are not allowed to place bets on horse racing, on or off duty. It is hard to think of another group that is strictly forbidden to use a legal and otherwise unrestricted product it sells, services in some way or promotes to the entire population.

The club plans to relax that rule when the next season begins in September for employees not on duty, and not in sensitive positions where the integrity of racing may be seen to be compromised by gambling. That is to be welcomed as a sensible move in keeping with the times. The ban dates back to the days of handwritten betting tickets and entries that created potential for employees to write false bets. Electronic processing has virtually eliminated such a risk.

In any case, the ban is very much a case of the club being seen to do the right thing, without being able to prevent employees from asking a relative or friend to place bets on their behalf. Worse still it has the potential to turn employees into law breakers instead of rule breakers - by driving those who like a bet into the arms of the club's sworn enemy, illegal bookmakers.

It is far healthier to bring it into the open and allow employees to bet within boundaries that uphold the integrity of the industry. Frontline staff see enough losers as well as winners to know the dangers of reckless gambling. Backroom staff responsible for product development and marketing might benefit from acquiring first-hand knowledge of customers' needs, likes and dislikes.