Officials on both sides of the equator admitted yesterday that passage of the Betting Duty (Amendment) Bill by the Legislative Council did not make international commingling a certainty for September.
Commingling will mean bets on Hong Kong races placed in foreign countries will be funnelled directly into pools here, while bets placed here on foreign races will be placed into their home pools. However, executive director of racing Bill Nader said timing of the approval meant a tough schedule.
"Now we can negotiate with Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, America and Europe, and possibly South Africa, but we face limitations due to time constraints," Nader said. "Still, we are highly motivated to meet the deadline of a season-opening launch and will work as quickly as possible to reach commercial terms and establish a tote interface with other jurisdictions - indications are that America and Australia are the early movers."
Australia has been Hong Kong's biggest simulcast partner, with the Jockey Club holding HK$440 million in bets on selected Australian races this season, and betting operator TABCorp is likely to emerge as one of its biggest commingling partners.
"In smaller domestic pools, we've handled about HK$500 million on Hong Kong this season - up 10 per cent on last year," said Brendan Parnell, TABCorp chief operating officer, media and international.
"Our previous experience is that commingling will produce growth of 10 to 25 per cent, and it might be even more with our customers accessing the Hong Kong pools. We do have big hurdles in front of us before it happens - we need regulatory approvals, government approvals, but now we can go ahead and pursue them. It's good news."
TABCorp is probably the most experienced commingler in the world, having begun with New Zealand some time ago and now working as either guest or host with "a dozen different nations" according to Parnell. TABCorp was also at the forefront of setting up a logistical gateway on the Isle of Man allowing smaller online operations to join commingling.
"In our view, it's a win-win - a real success on both sides of the operation, which has benefited local racing as a source of new funding," he said. "There is some frustration with the costs of developing and testing systems to link multiple countries, but the Isle of Man hub has streamlined that process."
Parnell said TABCorp intended eventually to introduce the full suite of Hong Kong wagering pools, including super exotics like the double and triple trio.
"Ultimately, we aim to offer double trios and triple trios because our customers will expect it - and the triple trio is an exciting bet type," Parnell said. "That will take a little longer, but a high proportion of the Hong Kong bets - win, place, quinella, duet [quinella place] and trifecta [tierce] - are pools we have."
Nader said some overseas jurisdictions would be restricted to simple bet types in the first season of commingling.
"America is much more advanced and is positioned to bet into all of our bet types, with the one exception of the treble," he said. "On the other hand, Singapore would most likely be win and place only to start. It's something we will work through with each jurisdiction."
The club has guaranteed the government duty for three years at HK$175 million per annum on overseas races, implying at least a repeat of the HK$1.67 billion held this season.