If there was one recurring theme over the first two days of the Asian Racing Conference in Seoul this week, it was the unparalleled ability of unthinking governments to bring perfectly viable racing industries to their collective knees. In Hong Kong at the present time, the future of the horse racing industry lies with the members of the Legislative Council, who will soon vote on a package of reforms, already recommended by the Home Affairs panel, which will see long-overdue changes to wagering taxation. It has been a stormy passage for Jockey Club chairman Ronald Arculli, chief executive Lawrence Wong Chi-kong and their team, who have been presenting their case for a number of seasons now but, after eight straight years of decline, the government has acted. To the credit of the politicians concerned, they have ultimately accepted the need for reform and just last week recommended it in a paper to Legco members. Hopefully - the votes of single-issue fanatics like the anti-gambling lobby notwithstanding - the law should be passed. In neighbouring Singapore, the Turf Club was poised to launch racing into homes via television on April 1 but suddenly announced an indefinite delay, despite having already signed customers up, causing much wringing of hands and widespread embarrassment. The reason, this column has been told, was through pressure from the Singapore government that it didn't want any other gambling issues on the agenda while the casino issue was being pushed through. The all-encompassing excuse - 'you have to understand, this is Singapore' - was wheeled out again. Of course, that explains everything. The Korean Racing Association (KRA), host of the 30th Asian Racing Federation Conference, was going gangbusters with its turnover of a fledgling racing industry until two seasons ago when turnover, which was starting to get close to Hong Kong levels, suddenly hit the wall. Those Siamese twins - a greedy take-out rate (in this case 28 per cent) and a fast-growing illegal market - are to blame. Does the government of any Asian racing jurisdiction realise how much they fuel illegal gambling by unrealistic taxation of its wagering product? In Korea, they think the illegals now have 40 per cent of the market. The 'surprise' is that it's only 40 per cent, because the legal 28 per cent take-out is a gold-plated invitation to the pirates. The KRA is now pleading with the Korean government for tax reform to enable it to better compete with the illegals. Malaysia had a big representation at the ARF, even bringing along a minister of their government for the learning process. Talk about begging for mercy, Malaysia has never recovered from the decision of a previous regime to boost taxation of racing through the roof, such that Pan Malaysian Pools were taking out approximately 30 per cent of the turnover. That inspired decision saw the biggest flight of betting dollars ever experienced in a legalised racing nation and, even today, despite lowering the take-out to 21.2 per cent, the Malaysians estimate they capture only eight per cent of what's bet on horse racing. The illegal bookies get the other 92. And if you think that's tough, consider the presentation made by the chairman of the Jockey Club of Turkey, Umur Tamer, who admitted embarrassment in telling the conference that 70 million citizens bet only US$1 billion ($7.8 billion) per annum on its excellent racing. The reason? A take-out rate of 60 per cent. Win and place punters at Turkey's major tracks get back 40 per cent of what is bet into those pools. The reasons are religious-political, as Turkey is predominantly Muslim and so is the ruling political party. In Bahrain - also an ARF country - the right to wager on horse racing was withdrawn by the government in the 1940s and never returned. Now the Maktoum family of Dubai might be able to make racing work without wagering, but in the absence of such largesse, any other jurisdiction has done well to still be going 60 years down the track. The good news story came from Srinivawsa Gowda, chairman of both the Bangalore Turf Club and the Turf Authorities of India. Gowda, clearly a man whose vision is matched with his political clout, oversaw a review that saw the take-out rates slashed from 16 to 8.75 per cent at the Bangalore club. The result? Surprise, surprise, turnover increased by 900 per cent and everyone won. Race club, government, racehorse owners, breeders, punters, trainers and jockeys - everyone was better off because of the more realistic approach to the way racing should be taxed.