The Jockey Club has a monopoly on legal gambling in Hong Kong, but is no stranger to competition from underground bookmakers offering attractive payouts, discounts and betting options. And that does not include the billions gambled by Hong Kong people in Macau casinos. Now, however, it faces legitimate competition. It comes from huge offshore betting hubs operated by gambling authorities in other jurisdictions. The participating countries funnel horse-racing wagers into the betting pool where the race is staged, or into a common pool. Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges says hubs could divert bets from Hong Kong pools with attractive deals for major customers. Then some of its HK$80 billion wagering business could be heading offshore without any benefit to the community. An example is a deal between official Australian and South African betting agencies to set up a global hub for exchanging bets between different jurisdictions in a tax haven to enable aggressive pricing. The arrangement is called commingling, in which the participants split profits from betting and each negotiate tax arrangements with their own governments. The Jockey Club wants to take part to protect its own market, but the government is not prepared to take less than its usual cut, which means it is not viable for the club and foreign operators. To get round the double taxation issue if the government will not relent, Engelbrecht-Bresges has not ruled out the Jockey Club setting up on off-shore satellite betting operation, outside Hong Kong jurisdiction and separate from local operations. That should not be necessary. The government has the final say in changes the club wants to make to its gaming operations, no matter how small or incremental. Wary of antagonising anti-gambling groups, it takes its time approving measures to keep the club competitive and meet demand, such as more race days. Hence its recent response that it is open to arguments for enhancing the club's competitiveness without compromising its policy of restricting the number of gaming outlets and not encouraging gambling. There is no denying gambling can be addictive and cause social problems. But it is an irrepressible vice as old as civilisation. Reining in the Jockey Club and driving it underground only encourages irresponsible betting and organised crime. Driving it offshore makes no sense either when the club estimates commingling would be worth an extra HK$180 million plus a year to the government - on top of the HK$8 billion the Jockey Club contributes to the community in taxation and HK$1.6 billion in charity. We trust officials will strike the right balance in the community's interests in time for the 2012-13 racing season.