THE Government picked up $8 billion from racing last season - and a warning from the chief executive of the Royal Hongkong Jockey Club not to increase betting tax. The Government windfall represents a 15 per cent increase in revenue over the previous season, with $7.7 billion coming directly from betting duty. Major-General Guy Watkins, the Jockey Club supremo for the past six years, said at an end-of-season press briefing yesterday: ''When I came here first, the Jockey Club's percentage from betting turnover was 9.5 per cent. That has now gone down to six per cent. ''We have absorbed virtually all betting duty increases from the Government, but cannot continue to do so. ''Inevitably, if there are more, they will be passed on to the punter, and he will not be happy with that.'' Such a move would raise the spectre of an increase in illegal bookmaking. ''Illegal bookmakers do not have to pay the Government a cent, so it could mean much better business for them,'' General Watkins said. Bookmakers generally offer a 10 per cent to 15 per cent discount to punters, and on win and quinella bets that can amount to a considerable saving. Total betting turnover for the season was up eight per cent, breaking through the $60-billion mark for the first time and resulting in an all-time betting record for last Sunday's final meeting of the season of $1.367 billion. The equine virus which brought the season to a dramatic halt in late November has spurred the Jockey Club into wide-ranging action to prevent a similar occurrence. It has sponsored equine viral research at the University of Kentucky and the Equine Virus Research Institute at Newmarket at a cost of US$50,000 (about HK$387,000) per year for the next three years. Before next season, HK$4 million will be spent on a deep cleaning programme at Sha Tin racecourse, particularly on the central air-conditioning system that services all stables. The drawn-out season, resulting from the enforced break due to the virus, led to a tiny drop in attendance figures. An average of 48,170 spectators per meeting attended the 69 race days and nights from September 13 through to last Sunday. That represented a drop of 16 fans per meeting. General Watkins also warned that the club might have to reduce its allocations to charity because of the seven per cent expected reduction in income. A spokesman for the Jockey Club said later that the only spending projects already agreed upon were for a riding establishment and riding courses in Tuen Mun and the club's contribution to the cost of the Hongkong Stadium. ''We have no policy on how much we are going to donate to charity in any one year and all contributions are dependent on requests anyway. ''We are not saying there will be a drop in contributions to charity. What we are saying is there could be a drop. After all, we are accustomed to increasing our allocations to charity annually. There could still be an increase. If there is, it could be very small,'' he said.