Chiefs wary, despite rude health

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2012, 12:00am


Behind the scenes at the Jockey Club, there is the laudably circumspect view that turnover increases should not be taken for granted heading into an uncertain economic future, despite racking up a third successive significant increase this season.

Since the tax restructuring prior to the 2006-07 season, the Jockey Club has returned increases in five of six seasons, with the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) carrying the blame for the 1.28 per cent drop three years ago. Fifteen years on from the handover, the turnover this season came to HK$86.1 billion - still more than HK$5 billion short of the 1997 figure, but a rise of 7.1 per cent year-on-year and up more than 34 per cent since the 2006 tax changes which allowed changes to the club's business model that have been winners.

The chiefs at Sports Road remain mindful of that dip in 2008-09 brought on by havoc in the world economy and are fearful things could go there again if the uncertain climate remains. Yet the mainland factor now seems to be where the club officials' growth is coming and is that just too big to fail them?

If money keeps seeping across into Hong Kong pools - and it is only a drop from the gargantuan bucket that is China - then that is surely enough to have a serious impact, even in a slowdown.

Perhaps we could throw the net wider and say the growth is from Asia, since there is plenty of money bet illegally on Hong Kong racing in places like Singapore and the Philippines, which finds its way back into the mother pools here late in the betting.

The betting scene last season had been characterised by the strength of late-arrival 'price stomping' moves, and by how many won.

It's in the nature of things that the winning 'stompers' are remembered, the losers not so much, and the memory of this season will be of prices less stomped, but it had its moments. The highlight was Berio's price drop in March from well into double figures to 3.6 by the time he clung on to a narrow win.

It was a reminder the 'God Of Lamp' hadn't gone away, but this season the extraordinary accuracy of the market on overbacked runners dipped. The average price of a winner rose from an all-time low of 8.6 to a more regulation figure of around 10.0, while wins by outsiders increased.

The government's betting duty rose by 6.3 per cent to a tick under HK$10.16 billion, yet it continues to stonewall the club on commingling.

The club reported an added 20 per cent in simulcasting turnover on overseas racing, proof according to the club that fans like the globalisation of their betting and chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges even flagged in September the possibility of the club setting up a commingling operation offshore if forced down that path.

The rumour mill suggested the sun was about to break through the clouds on commingling negotiations, only to find new clouds forming. Yet with so much sunshine beaming down everywhere else, it has been hard to make a case for handing out umbrellas.