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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

Commingling on the charge as Jockey Club betting posts more records

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges (centre) specified “on the pure figures” at one point when he subdivided his post-season address to the media on Sunday between the sport and the business, but it is impossible to separate the financial success of Hong Kong racing from its outstanding racing, its big visions and strategies.

It is that financial success that allows the Jockey Club to spend $8 billion refurbishing its racecourses in the past five to ten years, it is that financial success that allows it to invest $4 billion in Conghua Training Centre and then turn to spending more billions repairing and upgrading the ageing facilities at Sha Tin. It is that financial success that allows the club to attract quality jockeys and trainers and, ultimately, that provides stake money to justify owners spending money on the equine talent that allows the sporting side of Hong Kong to defy pure numbers.

And it is the sum of all of that which goes to staging a great sporting season to fuel a commingling business that exploded this season as overseas punters embraced Hong Kong racing.

In the 2017-18 season, the raw numbers were a rise of 5.8 per cent in total racing turnover to $124.2 billion, a net income for the club of $5.48 billion and a return to Hong Kong’s community, through taxation, of more than $13 billion.

Simulcasts of races from other countries rose 8.6 per cent but the key driver of turnover is commingling – without it, the season would have seen a negative turnover change.

Before the process of funnelling bets on Hong Kong from punters overseas into the home pool in Hong Kong began, those bets were held piecemeal in tiny domestic pools in a wide variety of countries. Jockey Club estimates were that these small pools added up to perhaps $3-4 billion and that figure might increase by a significant proportion once it was housed in much larger pools that allowed larger bets.

But even the most optimistic club officials could not have seen the numbers being this high, this soon.

After just a few years of commingling operation, the bottom line number has soared – up 154 per cent in the 2017-18 season – to a total of $16.5 billion in turnover from overseas.

For Sunday’s final race meeting at Sha Tin alone, the commingling handle was $335 million – that’s more than $US 42 million on a single meeting.

Commingling is now 13.3 per cent of the club’s total business on racing after being 5.4 per cent just twelve months earlier. Where it ends, nobody can tell and the club moves into new territory in mid-June, 2019, when its commingling networks will aggregate bets from around the globe on behalf of the Royal Ascot meeting.

“I think the success of commingling shows that our strategic thinking to make Hong Kong a world leader in racing in every area is right – when people have so many choices, they will choose what they see as the best quality product and I think the excitement and appeal of Hong Kong racing itself is directly connected to our commingling figures,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

Attendance has been healthy overall but more problematical in specifics.

“Total attendance is showing two trends – Happy Valley is still growing and we think the Happy Wednesday brand is global now,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “But there is a little downturn in the public betting halls at Sha Tin so we will look at how we can make things more attractive, although we recognise that technology makes betting away from the course so easy now.”

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