Ever since football betting was legalised almost a year ago, there has been one popular guessing game on which odds have not been offered - how attractive it would prove to be with the public. We were given the best indication yet when figures were released for the first time by the Jockey Club last week. The verdict is one of moderate success and plenty of promise. The statistics were a welcome boost for the club at a time when it is troubled by a seven-year decline in revenue from horse racing. This, as we report today, has prompted consideration of radical moves to hold race meetings all year round. So the revelation that gross profits from football betting have exceeded expectations is good news for the club - and the charities that it helps fund. They totalled $3.3 billion for the first 11 months. Part of the reason for this, however, was the success enjoyed by a number of unfancied teams - notably the victorious Greek national side in Euro 2004. Fortune may not be so kind to the club next year, and the level of profits might therefore be difficult to maintain. The government should be happy with the additional revenue brought in by football gambling. It came close to meeting the $1.8 billion target. But all eyes were on the turnover - an indication of the extent to which legalised football gambling has caught the public's imagination. Here, the results were a little disappointing. The figure of $16.1 billion is about half of the anticipated sum. But this is largely due to the gradual approach adopted, which has seen different types of bets rolled out over the course of the year. The turnover can be expected to increase as legalised football betting gains more of a foothold. Success, however, cannot be judged purely in financial terms. The declared aim of introducing football betting - in the face of strong opposition from social, religious and educational groups - was to curb the lucrative trade of the illegal bookmakers. The secretive nature of the syndicates' illicit operations makes it difficult to judge how much of an impact has been made. They were active during Euro 2004, with one underground bookmaker claiming a turnover of more than $2 billion on that tournament alone. There have also been plausible suggestions that the publicity given to legalised football betting has boosted the illegal trade. The police, however, argue that there have been fewer arrests and say they believe illegal bookmaking has been curtailed. The Jockey Club's turnover is high enough to suggest that some inroads must have been made into the business of illicit bookmakers: club chairman Ronald Arculli claims 30 per cent of the underground trade has been diverted. However, the illegal bookmaking operations are likely here to stay. The Jockey Club, operating within strict limitations, simply cannot compete with them. They offer credit, a wider variety of exotic bets and, crucially, more attractive odds. The more appealing the service offered by the club, the more chance it has of beating the underground syndicates. The idea of higher-risk bets offering higher rewards, raised by Mr Arculli yesterday, is worth considering. There remain valid concerns about the evils of gambling in Hong Kong. But these would exist with or without legalised football betting. And they are being dealt with. The Jockey Club is pumping $60 million into educational programmes for the public and treatment for pathological gamblers. Legalising football gambling was a logical and sensible step for the government to take. It is boosting tax revenue, providing money for charity and - at least to some extent - diverting cash away from illegal gambling operations. The first year has provided a solid foundation for the future.