AS the 2008-2009 racing season ended in HONG KONG in early July with its biggest betting day in six years, the Government was poised to grant a Jockey Club request for extra race days to boost a dip in turnover.

The South China Morning Post reported that a Government source had predicted that the number of race days in the city would increase from 78 to 83 in the new season and that the number of simulcasts of overseas race meetings would rise from 10 to 25 days.

Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs, Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai, said the Government would seek a balance between the interests of adults seeking entertainment and those concerned about promotion of gambling.

The Post quoted critics as saying that this would mean punters could bet all year, depriving them of a ‘cooling-down period’ that they could spend with families.

Hong Kong Society for Truth and Light General Secretary, Choi Chi-sum, said his Christian lobby group felt ‘deeply sorry’ about the proposed increase in race meetings.

"Even when the local racing season ends, people can still bet on overseas racing through the Jockey Club with live broadcasting," he said. "It means that there will be no cooling-down period for gamblers and that they will have no time to reflect on their behavior. The summer break was always the only time when they could finally spend more time with their families."

On the final day of the 2008-09 season – Thursday, July 2 – 63,369 fans flocked to Sha Tin racecourse. With other punters in the 116 off-course betting centres and thousands more at home, they combined to bet HK$1.22 billion on 11 races. It was the highest turnover since June 22, 2003, and brought turnover to HK$66.82 billion, down just 1.28 per cent on last year's HK$67.68 billion.

"Considering the impact of the economic crisis, we are more than satisfied with that result," HKJC Chief Executive, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said, hailing what he termed a ‘wonderful’ race meeting.

The Jockey Club's horse-racing business will not have to top up its tax payments but will only just make the HK$8 billion tax guarantee to the Government. The figure was estimated at HK$8.12 billion.

On the other hand, it is able to retain just HK$3.09 billion of its HK$66.82 billion of turnover for operating expenses and charity contributions, down from HK$3.15 billion last year.

The increase of five racing days in the new season would raise an extra HK$480 million in tax for the Government while the 15 extra simulcast race days would reap another HK$36 million in taxes, according to the HKJC.


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