With legalised soccer betting six months old next week, the Post looks at the future of the Jockey Club's new venture - and whether it has been a winner With its soccer betting operations almost six months old, the Jockey Club has defended itself against criticism that it is failing to put illegal bookmakers out of business. When the venture was launched on August 1 after furious debate, it was with an official goal of beating the underground bookmakers at their own game. But academics and underworld sources say there has been a boom in soccer betting - and not all punters have been turning to the Jockey Club. A former middleman for illegal bookmakers told the Post that illicit betting was booming like never before. However, the Jockey Club's chief executive, Lawrence Wong, said the fight with the underground bookies was an uneven one. 'What we ask is that people try to be fair and see the whole thing in balance,' Mr Wong said. 'Our role is to help the government control and regulate soccer betting, which was previously an activity that was exclusively conducted by illegal bookmakers. 'But with everything we do, we need to bear in mind the social implications. There is a restraint on what we are able to do, compared with what the illegals can do, and we must always do our best to take a balanced approach.' The Jockey Club will not reveal its soccer betting turnover, though sources suggest punters are wagering $300-350 million a week. 'I cannot comment on turnover figures at present,' Mr Wong said. 'With soccer betting turnover, we are in a no-win situation. If the numbers are too low, we will be accused of not doing enough to get a fair share of the illegal market, but if the turnover is too big, we are accused of going overboard in promoting gambling.' Mr Wong hit back at critics who say the Jockey Club should regulate, not popularise, football betting. 'We have very active programmes to educate problem gamblers and we have security guards at off-course betting centres checking ID's of young people to prevent under-age gambling,' Mr Wong said. 'We spend a lot of time and money on education and prevention of problem gambling. But sometimes I think people expect too much of us. Preventing under-age gambling is not just a Jockey Club responsibility, but something for parents and the education system.' Chung Kim-wah, assistant professor of applied social sciences at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who has conducted a survey on soccer gambling, said it was too early to determine conclusively if legalisation would beat the illicit operators. But based on his observations and discussions with educators, Professor Chung said more people were betting on soccer games than before - both through the Jockey Club and the illegal channels. For now, legalisation did seem to be effective in preventing illegal gambling. 'But then again it's hard to get to the goal in half a year. We have to give it more time,' he said. One troubling issue was that students were starting to bet on games and many educators did not know how to deal with the situation, Professor Chung said. According to a former tang chai, or middleman between punters and underground bookmakers, media coverage of soccer gambling has helped to promote the activity. 'Now that it is legal, everyone knows about it,' he said, adding that illegal bookies provided better odds than the Jockey Club and punters did not have to pay cash up front. While the Post's source said he no longer worked as a tang chai, he still bet on games with illegal bookies. The Jockey Club will have to make public some figures from its soccer operations in March, when it files its taxes. Professor Chung said a better assessment of the situation could be made after the peak soccer season, from March to May, and when the figures became available.