Jockey Club chief says hurdles cleared for Olympic events Hong Kong Jockey Club chairman John Chan Cho-chak loves racing and horses - even though he has not made big money from his 12 thoroughbreds. After serving in the Hong Kong government for 30 years, Mr Chan entered the private sector. In April, on his 65th birthday, he retired as senior executive director of Kowloon Motor Bus which he ran for 15 years. He is now serving the public again, and the coming Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events are occupying his thoughts for the moment. Longer term, he has to take on government and the anti-gambling lobby to seek lower betting tax and more freedom to upgrade facilities, add racing days and expand betting services to cover new areas such as North America's National Basketball Association. While Mr Chan said he would not mind closing the club and racecourses if that could really stop all Hong Kong people from gambling, he warned that nobody in the city except our neighbour, Macau, would benefit. As the Olympic Games approach, is the HKJC ready for the big day? The preparation work is almost done. The Sha Tin venue was ready on May 26 and the Sheung Shui venue was ready on June 16. We have set a record by completing all infrastructure needed for the equestrian events within two years. The overseas participants and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge were happy with the facilities when they checked them last year. We have spent HK$1.2 billion, which is more than our original budget of HK$800 million, because we added some security facilities. Will the Jockey Club do something to boost the Olympic spirit - some critics say people are not enthusiastic enough? It's typical of Hong Kong culture that people focus on business. But the Olympic torch rally in May showed the city's Olympic spirit. The Hong Kong Jockey Club has also done its part to promote the event around the city and by staging an equestrian exhibition in Happy Valley. The promotion works are also staged with the Equestrian Company and the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. What are your major worries for the equestrian event - typhoon, black rain alert, terrorist attack? Will you lose sleep? I won't lose sleep over anything. We have scheduled the equestrian competition in such a way that we can move the programme around if a typhoon delays competition by one or two days. And if a typhoon or black rain warning blocks the 14 days of the events then that is fate. The equestrian venue in Sha Tin was the site of the Hong Kong Sports Institute. What will happen to the facilities after this event? We will hand back the land to the government, which will use this opportunity to upgrade HKSI facility. But we will not demolish everything because we want to keep the stables which are modern and top class. It would be a waste to pull them down after the Olympics. We may keep the stables for about seven years, for those times when we need to accommodate some of the 1,200 or so racehorses affected when their 30-year-old home at Sha Tin racecourse needs to be repaired or rebuilt. Despite a rise in horseracing turnover this year to HK$67.68 billion - which is the best year since 2003, when we had Sars - it is still lower than the HK$92.4 billion turnover back in 1996. Does the Jockey Club have a plan to boost turnover back to its golden days? Are you worried that the weakening economic outlook may hit betting turnover? We cannot be over-optimistic. The economic outlook worldwide is not good. In addition, gone are the golden days when horseracing was the only thing around in the city - except mahjong. This is why the Jockey Club has been calling for reform for years. This includes adding five racing days to the current 78 days we are allowed, and giving us more flexibility to take bets on international races. The local tax regime discourages international races from accepting us at present and we would like to see the government cut the tax to help us. Given the lobbying from anti-gambling groups, isn't it difficult to ask government or the public to accept such reforms? Some groups are even calling for a ban on gambling to solve the problem of gaming addicts. I wouldn't have a problem closing down horseracing or the Hong Kong Jockey Club if that really ensured that nobody in Hong Kong gambled. But the problem is that some people like to bet, whether in Hong Kong or overseas. We should fight to keep this money in Hong Kong rather than have them bet it overseas. We should also remember that if they gamble in Macau or other overseas casinos, the money they lose is pocketed by commercial organisations. But the Hong Kong Jockey Club is a non-profit making organisation and its surplus goes to charity. Does Hong Kong face any threat from overseas markets? We are lagging behind our neighbours and are in danger of losing our gambling revenue to them. In 2010 Macau will have 40 casinos, 10,000 gaming tables, 26,000 slot machines, and 40,000 square metres of retail space. The gaming business brings Macau HK$80 billion in annual revenue - and 40 per cent of this comes from Hong Kong. In 10 years' time, it's estimated that Macau's revenue will increase to HK$150 billion. Next year, Macau will start to accept all types of sports betting - soccer, the NBA, horseracing, golf - you name it. Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are also developing their gaming businesses. If we keep our status quo, Hong Kong will lose out to our neighbours. Macau casino operators can advertise their hotels in Hong Kong but the Jockey Club cannot advertise. We hope that the government will at least allow us a level playing field to compete with our rivals. How can you attract young people to enjoy horseracing or soccer betting while preventing them from becoming addicted? It's very difficult. We have to strike a balance - encourage people to be responsible gamblers and to enjoy it as a kind of leisure activity. We don't want people to become addicted. We have paid HK$60 million in recent years to the Ping Wo Fund which deals with problems related to gambling. Some people believe the Chinese like gambling - do you agree? It's not just Chinese or Hongkongers who like to gamble. You will find in many places there are a lot of people who like gambling. The key thing is to ensure that people are responsible. Many youngsters prefer to bet on football and other sports to horseracing - why do you think this is? It is a fact that many young boys play football and bet on football matches. But there is less opportunity for young people to ride horses. So it's natural that they prefer betting on other sports to horseracing. Young people like different forms of entertainment and betting. That's why we are considering whether we to launch betting on the [United States'] National Basketball Association and other sports. As I mentioned, Macau will offer gambling on different sports next year. When the Hong Kong Jockey Club launched football betting in 2003 and changed the tax regime for horseracing in 2006, both were said to be aimed at cracking down on illegal betting operators. Do you think the reforms have achieved their goal? Our annual revenue from soccer betting in the past few years has been about HK$30 billion, which I would say probably went to illegal operators previously. If we find that other sports have illegal betting operations, we will study whether we should offer those services through the Jockey Club to crack down on the illegal activities. Hong Kong is an international financial centre - what do we need to do to make Hong Kong an international horseracing centre? Of course, we want more star horses like Good Ba Ba, Vengeance of Rain or Silent Witness. We need to attract owners to bring the best horses to the city by offering bigger prizes and by holding more international races. This would need government support in the form of cutting the betting duty and allowing the Jockey Club to develop new businesses to increase revenue to pay the prizes. We have a master plan to consider how to better use the Happy Valley and Sha Tin racecourses for corporate meetings, conferences and weddings. In Macau, many casinos offer conference venues, shopping centres, facilities for catering, and the performance arts. We need to upgrade our facilities and services to keep locals in the city and attract more travellers to Hong Kong. Will you consider letting the Jockey Club go public? It is impossible. Who will buy shares in a non-profit organisation like the Jockey Club? We are not making a profit and pay no dividend. There is no value for shareholders. The Hong Kong Jockey Club recently expanded its services in Beijing - do you plan to expand to other mainland cities? We have opened the Beijing clubhouse to serve our Hong Kong members and accepted about 100 members in the capital. Some members have asked us to expand to Shanghai and other cities and we will consider that. We have a lot of connections with mainland cities already. Many retired racehorses are used by the army or by the Dalian police force and some have been sent to jockey training schools. We will also help mainland cities that want to consider developing horseracing, or equestrian events for the Asian Games. Does the Hong Kong Jockey Club face any problems from its decision to donate money to Sichuan? No. We have a clear benchmark of donating HK$1 billion annually to local charities. We donated another HK$30 million to victims of the Sichuan earthquake and we have promised to pay another HK$1 billion to future projects for Sichuan. Have you made money from your own racehorses? I am an unlucky owner. I have wholly owned or been part of syndicates owning a total of 12 horses and three of them retired before they actually raced. But I don't own the racehorses for profit. I have horses just as other people have cats or dogs as pets. Any advice for punters? Enjoy the game but don't lose your head over gambling.