Amid an increasing threat from off-shore bookies operating via the Web, the Hong Kong Jockey Club has installed its long-awaited betting system for online punters and plans a public launch soon. The club's executive director of information technology, Steve Beason, said: 'Everything is ready to go. The system is up, it is installed, it is running' on the club's machines for internal testing. However, club management is still working on its business plans on how to start e-betting and which punters will be able to use it first. The jockey club, which is Hong Kong's biggest charity donor and one of its largest taxpayers, has been vociferous in its protests against syndicates in international tax havens which offer discount online betting to race fans. It argues that money is siphoned off from legitimate services and Hong Kong society as a whole. 'As the global racing industry relies entirely on betting revenue for its survival, this poses a very serious challenge to the future of professional horse racing and to individual racing clubs, including the Hong Kong Jockey Club,' it said in its annual report for the year ended June 30. The club's betting turnover totalled HK$83.4 billion last fiscal year. Of that money, 81 per cent was paid back to punters in dividends, 14 per cent was given to the government in betting duty and profits tax, 2 per cent was donated to charities and 3 per cent was used for operations. The Internet gambling system reportedly was going to be ready for the first race of the season, in early September. Instead, the club postponed the launch, partly to allow club staff to get back into the swing of things following a two-month summer break, according to Mr Beason. 'There were reports that said we were going to start in the beginning of the season and everyone said that's September. But we're in the beginning of the season still, we just started,' Mr Beason said. The jockey club has about 819,000 accounts for its telebet members' service, which allows phone and other types of access to its betting systems. Telebet members, usually Hong Kong citizens or residents with the prerequisite identification, could eventually become online punters, said Mr Beason. 'We're going to offer this (online service) very shortly to our existing telebet account holders,' he said. The annual report reiterates the club's desire to put those punters online. 'In the forthcoming season, the club's public Web site will provide the latest racing information and, for telebet account holders, the capacity to place bets via a betting Web site with real-time odds display,' the report said. The basic computer betting system used by the club has remained unchanged even though the club is branching out to online operations. However, Mr Beason said he had put Web servers in the front end of the network and installed a great deal of security. One of the jockey club's big concerns is authentication, making sure that e-betting is available only to Hong Kong residents, since other jurisdictions around the world have different regulations governing race betting. The club also has plans to use personal digital assistants (PDAs) for its new wireless betting equipment as an updated version of its customer input terminal (CIT). The present CIT can be connected to a mobile phone via a modem. Mr Beason is looking at the Visor, a PDA from Handspring of Mountain View, California. The club was already in talks with vendors who would consider creating a specialised Springboard expansion module, or a betting component that clipped into the back of the handheld, he said. With risk riding on his shoulders every race day, Mr Beason said he tended to be a fast follower of technological advances who introduced new services cautiously. 'What we like to do is slowly introduce the things that we've been working on all summer back in the first half or the first quarter of the racing season.'