Collaboration, communication, transparency and integrity were identified as key factors in helping racing authorities around the world form fruitful partnerships with government in a session titled 'Engaging with the Government as a Stakeholder' at the 38th Asian Racing Conference (ARC) in Cape Town, South Africa on Friday.
Mr. Andrew Harding, the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Executive Director, Racing, discussed how, under the Club’s unique integrated business model, the Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) and Mainland Governments have multiple roles, vis-à-vis the Hong Kong Jockey Club. In some aspects, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is regulated; in other areas, the Club’s role is as partner and collaborator on vital issues such as tackling illegal betting, betterment of society and charity.
He addressed the challenges and opportunities of Hong Kong's unique 'One Country, Two Systems’ political status and explained that “regular and effective engagement” with government is “imperative in overcoming regulatory challenges and obstacles.”
He said: “The Hong Kong government regards the Hong Kong Jockey Club as a close partner in combating illegal gambling and the Club has an independent Security and Integrity Department that works directly with government law enforcement agencies to facilitate a rigorous and effective crackdown on illegal gambling for the overall benefit of society.
“The Club has also been a staunch supporter of government in providing quality services to the community. Our shareholders are the people of Hong Kong because 95 per cent of our operating surplus after tax goes into our Charities Trust. As of 2019, we donated around US$0.5 billion a year, placing the Trust among the top five foundations in the world.
“The Trust funded 294 different Youth, the Elderly, Arts and Sports projects last year and also the flagship Tai Kwun Centre For Arts And Heritage project, a 10-year effort which turned a hundred-year old police and prison compound into the city's largest arts and heritage centre. We are very proud to say that Tai Kwun was awarded the UNESCO Asia Heritage Award of Excellence in October 2019 - equivalent to the Oscars for heritage projects.”
Mr. Harding added that the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s cooperation with the Mainland government has taken various forms, ranging from substantial and sustained relief funding after an earthquake killed 80,000 people in Sichuan in 2008 to the long-term development of the Club's Conghua Racecourse, which was opened in 2018 and staged its first Exhibition Raceday in March 2019.
He said: “Conghua Racecourse is Hong Kong's signature project in the Greater Bay Area (GBA). The Central Authorities provided solid national-level policy support throughout the planning and implementation stages and actively encouraged Hong Kong's contribution to the GBA.”
Mr. Harding noted that working with the different governments at national and local levels in Hong Kong and the Mainland demands flexibility from the Hong Kong Jockey Club and a clear understanding of ‘One Country, Two Systems’.
He said: “The system creates potential for us to expand in the Mainland without hindrances that foreign enterprises might encounter but a strong engagement strategy means we must fully understand key elements of the political structure, including the constitutional framework and different roles played by Central, Provincial and Local Authorities.”
Acute knowledge of party structure and political customs, and understanding the ways in which party officials think and operate, are also regarded as essential. Therefore, the Hong Kong Jockey Club has established a new and separate Mainland Affairs Team to formulate policy goals, identify new business opportunities and build relationships with key Mainland stakeholders.
Recruiting the right people was described as “really important in implementing our engagement strategy. Our staff comprise former public servants, members of the communication sector and cross-border regulatory advisors, all with experience in liaison and policy advocacy work.”
Mr. Harding closed by identifying the issues on which the Asian Racing Federation (ARF) and ARF Members will need to most closely engage government cooperation: “A key theme of the conference has been tackling illegal betting which crucially depends on engagement with government and a key dimension is the way the regulated wagering operator is treated in particular in terms of taxation and take out rates. In a number of Asian Racing Federation jurisdictions, taxation is cripplingly high and they are the same countries which have the largest illegal betting markets.
“Beyond that, we have been examining this week how racing can unlock potential and in so many cases that depends on government approvals on a range of things including whether off-course wagering and online wagering is allowed and approval to enter into separate pools and simulcast arrangements. In particular, the holy grail of international commingling depends on approval to link pools and agreements from governments not to double tax. These are critical issues.”
Also speaking at the ARC’s ninth plenary session were the Hon. Martin Pakula, the Australian State of Victoria’s Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, and Minister for Racing; Mr. Bernard Saundry, Chief Executive of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Inc. and Mr. Moses Tembe, Chairman of Phumelela International.