Gambling on horse races is legal in Hong Kong and it’s a favourite local pastime. In Hong Kong, more money is bet on an average horse race than anywhere in the world.
With record revenues of more than 14 billion US dollars last year, there are high hopes this year’s revenues from horse racing could be even stronger.
At the Happy Valley racetrack tonight in downtown Hong Kong. Locals are cheering the home champion jockey, Joao Morreira.
Punter Tony Ho put his bet on Moreirra tonight… and it paid off.
“When a horse is in form… you can see from the skin, the fur, the condition. It’s a feeling. It takes time to develop the sense. But I have been studying horses for five years and I started to get the sense and start winning money from the last two years,” Ho said.
Some 25,000 people are here with Ho tonight. He explains why horse racing is so popular among the locals in Hong Kong. “Racing is exciting. It’s a way to gamble. Apart from football betting, it’s the only legal way to gamble in Hong Kong.”
The key behind the success of the Hong Kong racing industry is the enthusiasm of local gamblers who come out in big numbers to each race meeting.
“Hong Kong overwhelms the rest of the world in terms of money bet and also in attendance. The average attendance at a HKJC meeting is 25,000 and in terms of what we bet overall the figure is 12.5 billion euros per season as of the end of last season. Per race it can’t be topped...the US runs 40,000 races per year and they handle 10 billion,” Pat Cumming, the spokesman for the Hong Kong Jockey Club that manages the city’s tracks and races said.
Hong Kong’s success is also supported by strict regulations on drugs, along with fair and transparent management of races. By contrast scandals over race fixing have blighted the horseracing scene in other parts of Asia.
Michael Cox covers racing for the local newspaper. “They do the right things with the funds they have. They build fair racetracks, they have good handicapping, they have a good racing product. Stringent drug testing, strong stewarding to ensure fair racing, it gives punters confidence to bet.”
Here in the prize money for horse racing is also among the highest globally. Last year the Hong Kong Jockey Club paid out 400 million US dollars to the owners of race winning horses.
Top races offer prize money of several million dollars and that, says Cox, ensures Hong Kong features some of the best horses in the world.
“It’s the best prize money in the world. It gives owners confidence to invest, knowing that if you buy a half decent animal you are going to get a return. But the biggest factor is integrity. Higher prize money ensures competitive racing, it ensures people are trying and that there is less to be gained from acting in an untoward manner in terms of race fixing,” Cox said.
Another factor is the ability for overseas gamblers to put money on Hong Kong races. That includes gamblers from China where wagering on horseracing is forbidden by law.
Pat Cumming from the Hong Kong Jockey Club says the club has been engaging with officials and gamblers from the mainland.
“We certainly have outreach and marketing programs to bring visitors from the mainland to Hong Kong. We have been bringing in fans and presumably punters in from the mainland. The relationship between the Hong Kong Jockey club and the mainland is greatly increasing.”
He added “We are in the construction phase of our Chungfa training centre near Guangzhou, which will open in 2018. On September 9 we announced a partnership with the Chinese Equestrian Association. The Jockey Club is going to train jockeys, stewards, officials and bring its advanced drug testing protocols to racing in the mainland.”
Helen Peng comes from mainland China, and has just discovered the thrill of betting on horse races. The accountant placed her first bet at a recent race meeting. Although her horse came in second, she’s excited to bet again.
“I don’t know anything, I just pick by chance. I buy number 4 for first place but she got 2nd place. I think I will watch the horses go around and I may buy another one.”
With cash rolling in from heavy betting, the odds are on Hong Kong winning the race to become the financial giant of the horseracing world. That’s surely a fair bet.