Their trains may glide at the speed of a bullet, but government reforms can move at a snail's pace in some Asian countries. That's certainly been the case in Hong Kong and Japan when it comes to opening up their colossal gambling markets to international simulcasts.
Japan is still a closed shop. It is illegal for Japanese citizens to bet on foreign races while in their home country. The Japan Racing Association does have agreements permitting wagering on its races from outside of Japan, though the pari-mutuel pools are not commingled.
Hong Kong's rulers loosened their restrictions several years ago and currently allow 10 individual races per year to be imported for wagering purposes when a local track is operating. Fifteen simulcast days are permitted (though restricted to four hours) when no Hong Kong tracks are racing. Commingling of wagering pools has not been permitted.
The latter may be changing, however, and wagering analysts see any movement by the Hong Kong government as a positive step toward more internationalization of racing and wagering.
“The Home Affairs Bureau has agreed to propose amendments to the Betting Ordinance, subject to Legislative Council approval in the second quarter of this year, which would pave the way for international commingling approval,” said William Nader, executive director of racing for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
“We are one step closer but we are not quite there yet,” added Nader, who left the New York Racing Association in 2007 to move to Hong Kong and has two years remaining on his contract there.
“This allows for NO expansion in the number of races Hong Kong Jockey Club can import.”
It does allow for wagers on Hong Kong races to be merged into the HKJC's massive pari-mutuel pools, as well as permitting bets made by Hong Kong punters to be moved into host-site pools on those rare occasions when races are simulcast into Hong Kong. Currently, Australia is the biggest wagering market on HKJC races outside of Hong Kong.
Regulations aren't the only challenge for American races to reach Hong Kong bettors. The time zone difference puts most major U.S. races in the middle of the night in Hong Kong.
“it definitely is a step in the right direction,” said Ken Kirchner a U.S. wagering consultant whose list of clients includes Breeders' Cup, which had simulcast agreements with the HKJC from 2008-10 but has not had access to the Hong Kong market the last two years. Wagering from Hong Kong on six Breeders' Cup races totaled $4.9 million in 2010 after $2.9 million was bet on four Cup races in 2009.
“They are moving slowly toward the 21st Century and permitting commingling,” said Kirchner. “That's a positive step for global racing and global wagering.”
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