Football’s global shutdown has cost the Jockey Club in excess of HK$2 billion with local punters only able to bet on horse racing for almost two months.
Fixed-odds football betting had become one of the most lucrative operations for the Jockey Club since it was legalised in 2003, but it has collected next to nothing since the major leagues shut down in mid-March.
The Jockey Club raked in HK$15.3 billion in revenue from $114.1 billion in turnover on football betting in 2018-19 alone, but that figure is set to be significantly less this year with professional leagues only now slowly beginning to come back.
“With no football product the impact has been significant,” Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “It is around HK$1 billion per month.
“You can see now with the Korean league back and the Bundesliga going again, some of it is coming back but it is not even 30 per cent.”
It is hoped that the resumption of some of the world’s major leagues this month, including the Premier League, Serie A and La Liga, can help reduce the shortfall.
While football betting revenue has almost matched that of horse racing in recent years, Engelbrecht-Bresges said the crisis caused by Covid-19 has only emphasised the importance of horse racing in Hong Kong.
Football betting operates at a fraction of the cost to that of horse racing and has a much more lucrative tax proposition for the Jockey Club, but do not expect to see a change in focus according to Engelbrecht-Bresges.
“From a revenue point of view you can say ‘oh football is more important because you get more revenue from a $100 bet’, but we can’t look at it in a purely financial way,” he said.
“The core of what we do revolves around horse racing, even if our cost structure and taxes are much higher.
“Even if you look at football customers, 75 per cent of football turnover comes from original racing customers.
“With that in mind, we have to look at them as one customer base, not two separate ones. The core, the heart of the Jockey Club is horse racing and the charities.”
Another black hole for the Jockey Club is the Mark Six lottery, which has been closed down since February 1.
Last year, more than HK$8 billion was wagered on the Mark Six by locals and Engelbrecht-Bresges said he was hopeful to get the popular product and running again by July.
“The biggest elephant in the room is the Mark Six,” he said. “On a normal Mark Six day we have 400,000 to 500,000 people going into the off-course betting branches.
“They only go in and out but they are still going in. I get multiple requests about the Mark Six so maybe in six weeks we can open that back up.”