The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) recorded its third most successful season in history in 2019-20, despite the impact of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.
The body, which organises racing in Hong Kong and has a monopoly on pari-mutuel racing betting and overseas sport, said total racing turnover in the season that ran from 1 September 2019 to 15 July 2020 was HK$121.6bn (US$15.7bn/€13.8bn/£12.2bn).
This marked a 2.6% decline from the previous season. While racing continued throughout the year despite the pandemic, the closure of retail locations placed significant pressure on domestic wagering in Hong Kong.
The turnover on Hong Kong racing from domestic customers was down 8.3%, due to the effects of its 100 off-course betting branches being closed or operating on reduced opening from early February, and fans unable to attend the racecourse for almost half the season. However, HKJC said the closure of retail locations was mitigated by many customers switching online.
The body said that while turnover dipped by almost 26% in early February, wagering rallied through the latter part of the season and climaxed with a record HK$1.6bn being taken in the season finale at the Happy Valley course on Wednesday (15 July). There was a slight increase in the number of local races year-on-year with 828 compared to 812 in 2018-19.
Despite the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on global sport, there was a 12.9% increase in domestic customer betting on overseas events, to HK$4.7bn.
Total turnover from Hong Kong customers was down 7.5% to HK$98.0bn, but this was mitigated by the significant growth of international commingling agreements, through which people from around the world participate and bet on Hong Kong racing.
Commingling turnover increased by 25.3% year-on-year to HK$2.36bn and made up 19.3% of turnover in 2019-20, compared to 15.1% in 2018-19. HKJC said it will expand the World Pool concept – which pools bettors from Australia, Canada, Europe, Singapore and the US – next season as it seeks to build on this international growth.
“While we recognise that the coronavirus situation is an ongoing battle, and we must remain vigilant, I can say that it has been heartening to see the Hong Kong community pull together and play a crucial part in combatting its effects,” HKJC chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “The Hong Kong Jockey Club has been quick to reflect and enact those safeguarding measures and policies while continuing to race.
“We are pleased to have been able to complete a full season but of course our prime focus throughout, and a real challenge, was to act responsibly to protect the public health and safety of our staff, customers and the wider community, at every turn, while at the same time balancing that with the desire for our sport to continue.”
HKJC remains the city’s largest taxpayer and this racing season alone paid HK$12.1bn to the Hong Kong government, while a significant contribution, including special emergency Covid-19 funding support, has been donated to charity.
Engelbrecht-Bresges added: “There was a compelling public interest element to our desire to continue racing through Covid-19, from Chinese New Year to the end of the season, during which time our tax contribution from racing was more than HK$6.2bn. This has enabled us to not only keep donations at last year’s level but also increase it due to our contributions via the Covid-19 Emergency Fund.
“We are incredibly proud that the club could continue to make such a contribution and, the benefits of completing a full season will be felt by millions of people across Hong Kong over the coming months.”