Betting on the younger generation

Jockey Club open day criticised for helping to foster 'unhealthy interest' in gambling among children

Anti-gambling groups attacked the Hong Kong Jockey Club yesterday after it presided over an open day at the Sha Tin racecourse that attracted thousands of children.

The groups said the children and teenagers, who jumped and cheered while watching the races, would develop an unhealthy interest in gambling through the experience.

But the Jockey Club defended the event, saying the open day was held simply to give families and young people a chance to celebrate the National Day together - despite the holiday having been two days earlier.

The carnival, which featured games stalls and performances by singers as well as the racing, attracted 48,000 adults and 7,200 children.

It was only the second time people under the age of 18 had been allowed at a racecourse in Hong Kong.

The previous occasion was in 1999, when the Jockey Club organised a similar function at Happy Valley racecourse.

Gambling Watch spokesman Choi Chi-sum said the open day provided a chance for young people to 'participate in gambling indirectly'.

'Young people can look at how adults make their bets even from outside the betting areas,' Mr Choi said.

'They can also ask the adults to make a bet for them.'

Mr Choi also said allowing young people to stay in the spectators' areas and watch horse racing at close range would definitely encourage gambling.

'Young people are brought to enjoy the excitement and gambling atmosphere,' he said.

'It may lead them to believe gambling is very fascinating.'

Children and teenagers could move freely around the racecourse during the day, except in the betting areas.

The Jockey Club said it had stationed guards in betting areas to make sure no one under 18 was in the vicinity or placed bets. However, some game stalls were very close to the betting areas.

Home Affairs Secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping said the Jockey Club had put in place sufficient measures to prevent people under 18 from betting at the carnival.

'Young people attending the carnival are required to be accompanied by adults and they are barred from entering certain areas, such as the betting areas,' he said.

A Jockey Club director, John Chan Cho-chak, denied the event would encourage gambling. 'Those who participate [in gambling] will do so and those who don't participate will not,' he said. 'It has been the norm for a hundred years.'