Hong Kong Horse Bets Hit Record as Races Draw Young Punters

Horse racing bets in Hong Kong reached a record HK$93.8 billion ($12.1 billion) in the past season as the race organizers poured wine and hosted concerts to attract younger punters to its events.

Revenue in the 2012/13 season rose 9 percent from a year earlier, surpassing the previous record set in the 1996/97 season, Hong Kong Jockey Club said in a statement on its website. The 83 races drew over two million attendees, according to the statement.

The racing year was “one of the best seasons we’ve had, ever,” said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, chief executive officer at the Jockey Club. The club’s strategy “helped to grow our base of racing fans significantly,” he said.

The Jockey Club added new restaurants, and hosted music and wine-tasting events to its Wednesday night races to attract a young professional crowd to a pastime that began after the British developed the race track at Happy Valley in 1841. The club is the city’s sole provider of horse racing, football betting and lotteries, and contributed HK$11 billion to Hong Kong’s tax revenue.

The club faces increasing competition and higher operating costs, according to the statement. Net profit margin was HK$4.09 billion, short of the HK$4.5 billion achieved in the 1999/2000 season as Internet betting poses a threat to its monopoly in the city.

Younger Crowds

The Jockey Club invested almost HK$3 billion in the past two to three years to upgrade facilities, Engelbrecht-Bresges said. That has helped lure younger crowds as four in every 10 attendees at the Wednesday night races are in their 20s and 30s, and six in 10 on theme party nights, according to its annual report.

Hong Kong’s economy expanded 2.8 percent in the first quarter from a year ago, or 4.1 percent if not adjusted for inflation. Visitors to the city increased 16 percent to 48.6 million last year, helping boost retail sales to a record HK$47 billion in December.

To attract the growing ranks of Chinese high rollers, the Jockey Club runs a clubhouse in Beijing, two kilometers from the Forbidden City.

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