HKIR figures frank global strategy for world pools

There were many facets of the outcome of the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Longines HKIR meeting at Sha Tin last Sunday from the fact that the meeting went ahead at all, to Japanese racing dominance, the complete safety of patrons and staff at the track and the record turnover franking the global strategy of the Club.

With international support the HKIR meeting went ahead as Hong Kong goes through a state of suspended contemplation as to the way ahead. The city is quieter, thoughtful and not sure of what the extensive economic downturn means long term. However, what Hong Kong always has is a dynamic heart.

There might have been a crowd of 27,965, well down on the 96,388 last year, but those who came enjoyed the meeting and returned home safely along with the HKJC’s staff. A critical achievement in a time of uncertainty and a peaceful protest march with hundreds of thousands of citizens on Hong Kong Island on the same afternoon.

The record turnover of meeting at HK$1.71 billion, last year HK$1.605 billion, was another significant achievement and milestone for the future.

Local turnover was above last years HK$1.376 billion showing that digital wagering is filling the void of course attendance. Plus international co-mingling turnover of HK$334 million was up by nearly 30% from HK$258 million last year, a point emphasised by Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Chief Executive Officer after the meeting.

“We are more than delighted about the turnover. We could not have expected turnover like we had today,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges.

“The interesting part is that the local turnover, even though we had to close down some of our Off-Course Betting Branches, was above last year at HK$1.376 billion.

“The major growth seen today came from co-mingling turnover, which has been amazing. This shows that our strategy of globalisation, of making Hong Kong racing – with our integrity, with all the excitement, with the deep liquidity in our pool – available to the world, is working,” he said.

HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges hosting the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races post-race press briefing last Sunday at Sha Tin, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

The drive by Engelbrecht-Bresges for the industry to embrace both co-mingling and world pools was already evident before Sunday’s meeting and subsequent turnover outcome. If that turnover outcome had not been as successful neither Engelbrecht-Bresges nor the industry overall would have been despondent with Hong Kong’s current economic decline and a flat lining world economy.

That it proved to be so robust gives further strength to the outline Engelbrecht-Bresges presented of the aims for the international industry.

This year was the first world tote pool with HKJC and Ascot for the Royal Ascot meeting in June.

“I am a firm believer in globalisation of racing and it is not only when it comes to events like this, we are in an environment which is extremely competitive with other activities of sport and leisure. I personally think we have to all realise that it is an entertainment industry and not only a racing industry,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges.

“Therefore I firmly believe that we have to think more global, that we have to bring the best races and the best resources across the world together and the world pool is definitely one of the initiatives were we have

“A lot of international races that we bet on 75% of the total turnover around the world is in Hong Kong. So therefore it makes sense to have Hong Kong in a lot of events of world pools.

“We started the partnership with Ascot and you can see the results with Ascot reporting that the UK pool increased by 440% from 17 million pounds to 93 million pounds.  Our local turnover here increased by 23% so the liquidity and technology helped to create a very competitive pool product.

“That is why I think it was a very good start,” he said.

The HKJC is now exploring more world pool opportunities in the UK, Dubai and Australia with the Melbourne Cup meeting.

“For us it only makes sense if the pool into which we bet is at least as big as ours because if our pool swamps the other pool it does not make sense,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges.

“That is why I firmly believe that there is more opportunity and for the Melbourne Cup it would make sense for us to be into the Melbourne Cup.

“This is why I think as racing we have to think much more globally because as an industry we are too narrow.

“We have an easy position because we are have vertical integration with racing and wagering which is not in a lot of other countries, but I firmly believe racing and wagering operators have to work symbiotic together, it does not make sense that you fight each other.

“In the end we have to grow the customer base to grow the revenue. This is sometimes easier said than done but if one does not do it one is on trouble. We do not want to get involved in national politics, we look for strategic partners, one strategic partner is Ascot and we are open to partnerships with others.

“It was first important to establish the principle and demonstrate the economic value of the concept. But in the end it has to generate economic value,” he said.

Choosing meetings is one aspect of world pools and with the economic value proven from the Ascot experiment the next step is for world wager protocols to be developed. This involves not just having bet types that span the world and are understood in each country, but the total exchange of information from form, odds and operational aspects.

“I am thinking about the whole information, the form, the odds, it is everything, the richness of information you should not look only at the exchange of bets, you can learn a lot of technology if you look at the financial markets and how they define the protocols,” says Engelbrecht-Bresges.

“I would like to see a completely holistic (approach), it is wagering, it is information and it is necessary racing regulatory issues like scratchings, even the declaring of results, everything should be in one protocol and if that is seamless you can feed that into the different systems.

“So that is probably a three year vision.”

On the sidelines of the HKIR week meetings took place to start to formulate the pathway toward those protocols.

“I am optimistic in the first discussion we had, on the UK side, on the French side and our friends from Tabcorp that there is a positive buy-in on principle, but it is always when you go in on the investment and sometimes it is not only the moment, but the resources,” explained Engelbrecht-Bresges.

“We are lucky that we have in our wagering and in our technology department, that we have 450 people working in Hong Kong and 200 people working in Shenzhen so we have the depth of resources. But not everybody has, so you need a common effort, if not it takes you too long and you do not get the result.

“To sometimes convince people in racing with different stake holders takes a bit longer. But if you agree to the vision we are willing to put money behind it because we are convinced that this is the growth. We see that economically we are in that good a situation so you have to create new innovation to ensure that you grow,” he said.

If there was one shining light for the racing industry out of the worry and alarm for Hong Kong’s current situation it will be the pinnacle of those turnover figures. If there is another light shinning the path ahead for racing, it must be to work co-operatively both within each racing jurisdiction, with Australia needing a serious wake-up call here, and globally together for what must be achievable in the not too distance future.