The Jockey Club strongly opposes any increase in betting duty in the Budget, saying such moves would push more punters into the arms of illegal and offshore gambling operators. The club's chief executive, Lawrence Wong Chi-kwong, said the current tax of 14 per cent was already among the highest in the world and there was no room for an increase. 'If the betting duty is raised higher, it will be better to simply give away the money to illegal and offshore betting operators,' he said. 'The problem is that Hong Kong punters are already paying the highest betting duty in the world, and illegal and offshore betting companies are exempted from paying the taxes - a 14 per cent difference. 'From a business point of view, if the difference in prices is so big, who are you going to do business with?' Mr Wong said attendance figures and betting turnover had fallen in recent years. Last month, the club revealed that betting turnover halfway through the season was $38.7 billion, four per cent down on the same period last season. It has blamed Internet gambling, soccer betting and lifestyle changes for a continued slide, which has seen first-half turnover drop 19 per cent since the 1997-98 season. Club officials have also warned that the situation would become more severe with the World Cup in South Korea and Japan this summer. The drop in betting turnover had compromised the Jockey Club's ability to continue to make huge donations to charitable social causes, Mr Wong added. He also emphasised his call to lawmakers to pass changes to the Gambling Ordinance as soon as possible to tackle illegal offshore betting. Under the planned amendments, all phone and Internet bets with offshore bookmakers would be illegal. Illegal bookmakers would risk a maximum penalty of a $5 million fine and seven years' jail, while punters making illegal bets would face fines up to $30,000 and nine months in jail.