The Jockey Club has been forced to re-assess its betting turnover projections for the new season which begins on Sunday in the wake of worsening economic conditions. Chief executive Lawrence Wong said yesterday that, when the last season closed on June 14, budgeting for the 1998-99 season had provided for a six per cent slump in betting turnover. Whereas, last season turnover fell by just 0.87 per cent. 'Since then we have looked at the situation again and re-assessed our turnover expectations,' Wong said. 'I sincerely hope that I am wrong but one has to be realistic and the present financial climate and recession is not encouraging. 'I do feel that this recession is going to cover a wider spectrum and will hit our customers at virtually all levels,' he said. In light of the re-assessment, Wong said it must now be expected that betting turnover this season will fall by at least 10 per cent - with the grim prospect of charities being severely affected. A 10 per cent decline would mean a shortfall of between $9 billion and $10 billion when compared to last year's turnover. 'We are deeply concerned about the charity aspect. A number of organisations came to us towards the end of last season pleading for extra money to make up for the shortfalls they had suffered. 'That situation can only get worse as the prevailing economic conditions make people think twice about donating to charity.' The gloomy outlook - in Hong Kong betting turnover routinely goes up - has given added impetus to the Jockey Club's drive to have overseas betting avenues officially closed by the Government. 'I cannot stress enough that we are a non-profit making operation so our surplus goes back into the community. Every legal dollar taken out of Hong Kong through other gambling outlets does not in any measure come back to benefit the community here,' said Wong. The chief executive, who was hosting a pre-season press briefing at Sha Tin yesterday, said they would continue to press and request the Government to look into the Gambling Ordinance in relation to overseas betting operations encroaching on Hong Kong. From a sporting point of view, the story of the day was undoubtedly the opening to European horses of April's lucrative Queen Elizabeth II Cup. In previous years entries for the 2,000-metre Group One showcase have struggled to stand their ground and officials are hoping that dangling a $5.5 million carrot before Europe's leading trainers will remedy the problem. Eight of the 11 who eventually competed in last season's renewal, won in fighting fashion by Horse of the Year Oriental Express, were locally trained. April is, however, a hectic period on the European calendar and it is questionable how many trainers will be including Hong Kong in their plans. The hope is that the likes of International Races veterans Mark Johnston and Clive Brittain will be lured. The Queen Elizabeth II Cup was originally restricted to gallopers from Asian Racing Conference member countries and it has lacked the glamour and prestige of the December features. The conditions allow for a minimum of five from Hong Kong, two each from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Europe and one each from the MRA (Malaysia and Singapore), South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. And the International Races are in great shape, according to chief stipendiary steward Clinton P. Pitts Jnr. Pitts spent much of his summer recess selling the December events to American owners and trainers and the response he received suggests more North Americans will be seeking to follow in the hoof prints of 1997 International Cup winner Val's Prince. 'We made a number of presentations and explained just how attractive the International Races could be for them and they really liked the idea,' Pitts said. 'Most of them didn't have a clue just how easy the Club makes it for them and I think you'll see a lot more making the journey.' The David Hayes-trained Smashing Pumpkin has been rated two kilograms superior to Peter Yiu's Multi Star in the weights released yesterday for the Foster's Melbourne Cup (3,200 metres) at Flemington on November 3. Smashing Pumpkin received 52kgs in the weights - compiled by Victoria Racing Club handicapper James A.R. Bowler - while Multi Star received 50kgs. That put Smashing Pumpkin equal 50th among the 272 entries for the Cup against Multi Star's equal 94th position.