HK Jockey Club's century-old mission grows stronger

Updated: 2012-06-26 07:57

By Zhuan Ti (China Daily)

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As Hong Kong people prepare to mark the 15th anniversary of their city's return to Chinese sovereignty, a trip down memory lane reveals that while some were worried whether the city's unique and vibrant lifestyle could be maintained, the past decade-and-a-half has in fact seen it go from strength to strength. And there is no better testament to that than the fulfilment of the national leader's pledge that "ma zhao pao" - the racing would continue.

HK Jockey Club's century-old mission grows stronger

Hong Kong Jockey Club Chairman T Brian Stevenson (middle) shares happy moments with students in a quake-stricken area in Sichuan. The Club's commitment to serving as a force for good has grown wider as well as stronger with its donations extended to the Chinese mainland. Photos Provided to China Daily

Over the past 15 years, Hong Kong society has continued to advance at a gallop, with The Hong Kong Jockey Club constantly in the forefront of efforts to provide world-class, regulated racing and sports entertainment, helping Hong Kong develop into one of the top racing jurisdictions in the world.

Adding impetus to the city's growth over the years has been the Jockey Club's unique, not-for-profit business model, which means that the surpluses from its operations are all re-invested in the sport and the community at large. In the past 10 years alone, the Club has donated HK$11.7 billion to more than 1,200 charitable and community projects.

Through its provision of regulated betting entertainment, the Jockey Club channels Hong Kong people's demand for gaming into a key source of revenue for the public purse. In the past decade, its total tax and duty payments have reached a remarkable HK$127.1 billion, accounting for eight to nine percent of the government's tax receipts and making it the largest single taxpayer in Hong Kong.

Since the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), the Jockey Club has stood by its mission of being a force for good in society, lending a helping hand whenever the need has arisen.

In 2003, when Hong Kong was badly affected by the SARS epidemic and the city's economy hit rock bottom, the Jockey Club made an immediate donation to help local schools and community centres step up their disinfection and hygiene efforts. Subsequently, it recommended and financed the establishment of the Center for Health Protection, which has since served as an invaluable weapon in helping Hong Kong stave off other communicable diseases such as bird flu and swine flu.

The Club also created 4,000 new jobs during this period of uncertainty, renewing the hopes of the unemployed, and above all, instilling positive energy into an otherwise gloomy atmosphere. The recruitment exercise attracted a record turnout of some 40,000 job-seekers.

The Jockey Club has always been in the forefront of efforts to create positive values for the community, be they on the sporting or cultural fronts. Since 1997, it has supported the HKSAR and mainland authorities on various occasions to showcase national treasures in the city, bringing Hong Kong people ever closer to the nation's history, arts and culture.

Following its exclusive sponsorship of the "River of Wisdom - Animated Version of the Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival" exhibition in 2010, the Jockey Club's Charities Trust has earmarked HK$26 million this year to sponsor two major exhibitions and a large-scale performance in honour of the 15th Anniversary of the HKSAR. One of these is "A Lofty Retreat from the Red Dust: The Secret Garden of Emperor Qianlong" which was opened last week.

The other major exhibition, "The Majesty of All Under Heaven - The Eternal Realm of China's First Emperor" to be held in July will showcase 120 precious cultural relics from the pre-Qin period and Qin dynasty. They include 20 terracotta figures and rarely-seen jade and gold ornaments of the same period - about 40 percent of which are Grade 1 relics.

Another star event of the 15th Anniversary celebrations sponsored by the Jockey Club is "Our 15 Years - Youth Musical Performance" on 2 July, featuring some 10,000 young people and guests who will join a cappella and group singing, as well as body percussion with a view to setting two new world records.

Throughout its 128-year history, The Hong Kong Jockey Club has developed alongside the city and its people, in good times and bad. It has further strengthened this role since 1997, with its direct contributions to the community seeing a steady upward trend, responding to the changing needs of society. Last year, the donations made by its Charities Trust set a new high of HK$1.6 billion. The 114 charitable and community projects supported last year will eventually reach out to an estimated five million people, or 70 percent of the city's population.

Jockey Club Chairman T Brian Stevenson notes that the continued success of Hong Kong's world-class racing has not only promoted the city internationally, but also enabled the Club to make larger contributions than ever to Hong Kong society. This, he observes, bears out the famous pre-unification pledge that "ma zhao pao" - the racing would continue. "Horse racing is indeed a very good example of 'One Country, Two Systems' in action," Stevenson observes.

Stevenson warns, however, that the Jockey Club's long-standing role as a force for good in society is now increasingly at risk due to rapid changes in the global operating environment. The growth of other gaming opportunities in the region, the burgeoning of internet gambling and aggressive promotions by junket operators and illegal bookmakers have all led to a siphoning-off of Hong Kong community's resources.

In time, this could have a significant impact on the Jockey Club's tax payments to government, as well as its ability to fund charitable projects. It is estimated that the amount of money lost by Hong Kong people to Macao casinos alone has tripled over the past five years to HK$26 billion in 2010 - larger than the Club's gross margin on racing, football and the Mark Six, which last year totalled HK$23.73 billion.

Last year, the Club made a direct return to the community of some HK$18 billion through betting duties and taxes, charitable donations and contributions to the Lotteries Fund.

These achievements owe themselves to the Jockey Club's not-for-profit business model - something all Hong Kong people should cherish, as it is the key to ensuring the long-term stability of government revenues and continued support for countless worthy causes. Indeed, it is the very embodiment of "ma zhao pao", making good use of horse racing to bring lasting benefits for all.