RONALD ARCULLI IS well qualified as the chairman of Hong Kong Jockey Club as a keen follower of the 'sport of kings' for more than 30 years. But now, as club chairman and punter, he is facing a new challenge. It is close to the kick-off of legalised soccer betting, thanks to a five-year franchise granted to the Jockey Club by the government at the end of last year. All that remains to be done is for the law legalising soccer betting to be submitted to legislators for approval in April. With that go-ahead, punters will be able to begin laying their bets in the summer. While happily betting on the horses for more than 30 years, Mr Arculli confesses soccer betting, for him, will be something new. 'I bet with my friends for a beer or a meal, but I never bet on soccer,' he said in his Hutchison House law office, which is designed in the shape of an eight, a lucky number meaning rich in the Chinese language. Mr Arculli, 64, still works an 18-hour day, starting at 6am and spending his time between his law firm and many public duties. Appointed chairman of the Jockey Club last August, he has had to deal with the government on the many issues of soccer betting, including operating terms and dealing with opponents to this form of gambling. But he thinks society should face reality. 'There will always be gambling, whether the government legalises it or not. 'Hong Kong punters are now betting underground through illegal bookmakers and there is no chance of any tax income to the government. 'Most people in Hong Kong abide by the law, which means that if there is a legal way to bet on soccer, they will.' As it stands, illegal soccer betting in Hong Kong is believed to have a turnover of HK$30 billion a year. Once legalised, it will return HK$1 billion in tax to the government. This is in addition to the HK$10 billion to HK$12 billion from horse-racing betting duty. On top of this, any profit earned from soccer betting will be donated to charity by the non-profit making Jockey Club, which now gives about HK$1 billion a year to charities, hospitals, education and cultural activities. Some people are urging the government to end the Jockey Club's betting monopoly, but Mr Arculli said overseas experience showed rival agents aggressively promoted their services and attracted more to place bets. The level of taxes on soccer betting has yet to be announced but is widely believed to be about 30 per cent - the highest in the world, against Singapore's 25 per cent and Britain's 15 per cent. Despite paying such a high betting duty, Mr Arculli believes the club will still be able to beat off bookmakers by offering the same type of products. They include betting on the World Cup, FA Cup, English Premier League, as well as matches in Italy, Germany and Spain - more than 3,000 matches a season. The Jockey Club does not plan big promotions for soccer betting because of the extensive television and newspaper coverage the game already gets. 'We don't do any promotion with horse-racing but there are more than 30 specialist racing newspapers, and all general newspapers and the two financial newspapers have racing sections,' he said. Racing has provided Mr Arculli with his fair share of entertainment, money won on punts and glittering prizes. His biggest share of prize money as horse-owner was returned by the legendary River Verdon, which he co-owned with Sir Oswald Cheung and won a total of HK$19.5 million. While Mr Arculli is not a household name outside the business community, River Verdon is. Even people who have never bet know the name of Hong Kong's greatest race horse. 'He is now 15 and living happily on my friend's farm in Melbourne. I visit him from time to time,' said Mr Arculli, proudly showing a framed recent photograph of him with the horse, which has gained weight. In 1996, when River Verdon was retired, punters were left crying and the Chinese press carried the news on their front pages. River Verdon is the only horse to win all three major Hong Kong Triple Crown races - 1,600 metres, 2,000 and 2,400 metres - in a single season, 1993-94. As with his champion horse, Mr Arculli is multi-talented top performer. But unlike River Verdon, Mr Arculli has not retired. Besides setting up and running his own law firm and being chairman of the Jockey Club, he is also chairman of the International Youth Scheme Award and Honorary Secretary of the Hong Kong Bar Association. He is a member of committees of 22 non-profit organisations in areas such as education, town planning and social welfare. His nine-page resume also lists him as a director of many listed companies, including South China Morning Post (Holdings). Mr Arculli is said to have been recommended by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to be the first secretary for justice but is believed to be rejected by Beijing because of his mixed parentage. Mr Arculli shrugs his shoulders, smiles and declines to confirm if he has been approached, saying: 'There are many talented people better than me to do the job.' Asked about his roots, he said he was definitely a Hongkonger. He is the sixth generation of a Persian family which settled in Hong Kong in 1840. His father was a journalist at the South China Morning Post in the 1950s while his mother, who is Chinese, was a teacher. After studying for a law degree in London in 1961, Mr Arculli became a barrister before joining the then largest Hong Kong brokerage house, Sun Hung Kai Securities, in 1974. Two years later he became a partner in leading law firm Woo, Kwan, Lee and Lo. Mr Arculli's legal experience helped his work as a legislator for 12 years, from 1988 to 2000. In the 1990s, he was vice-chairman of the Liberal Party, which he helped establish. Two years ago, he quit politics, left the law firm he had been with for 24 years and set up his own business. The decision was prompted by the government's scrapping of scale fees for law firms, a move that Mr Arculli saw as an opportunity for newcomers. His company opened with three lawyers and now has 12. It works for companies focusing on telecommunications and technology in Taiwan and China. It was recently contracted to work for a Sri Lanka government telecoms project. Mr Arculli's weekends are taken up mainly with his racing commitments - duty as club chairman, meeting friends at the race courses and visiting his three horses - River Centaine, Earl Grey and River Dancer. The chairman likes to take a punt on outsiders. His best recent bet was HK$60 on three outsiders, which returned him HK$165,000. His winning tip for punters is 'small bet, big return'. Biography Ronald Arculli, 64, chairman of Hong Kong Jockey Club, is also a managing director of Arculli and Associates, Lawyers. He graduated in Lincoln's Inn, in London, and was called to the England Bar and the Hong Kong Bar in 1961. He was admitted as a solicitor in England and Hong Kong in 1976 and admitted as barrister and solicitor in Victoria, Australia, in 1982. He is married with five children and three grandchildren.