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Even losers are winners in Hong Kong
Mike Hedge
06:14 AEST Tue Dec 11 2012

Among the declarations made by China's leader Deng Xiaoping when Hong Kong was handed back to his country in 1997 was one small promise that directly affected more residents of the former British territory than almost any other.

"The racing will continue, the dancing will stay," decreed premier Deng.

The pledge had less to do with indulging an idle pastime established and run for the previous 113 years by the British imperialists who no longer owned Hong Kong, than with utter practicality.

Without horse racing, the Chinese central government would have had to accept, or not, the responsibility for building many of the territory's hospitals and schools, for maintaining universities, heritage buildings, constructing and operating recreational and leisure facilities and providing care and support for the territory's elderly and disadvantaged.

At a time when questions surround the practices of certain Australian racing administrations, the tight ship run by Hong Kong Jockey Club is sailing along more truly than ever.

While there may be a moral dilemma in an organisation that operates Hong Kong's only legal gambling outlets being the territory's largest community benefactor, at least the Hong Kong Jockey Club is doing what it does transparently, directly and in massive volume.

As well as being Hong Kong's leading charitable donor, putting $HK1.5 billion ($A184.59 million) a year back into the community, the Jockey Club is one of the world's top 15 charitable institutions.

Since 1973 the Jockey Club's donations to charitable and community projects have exceeded $HK30 billion ($A3.692 billion), according to its annual report.

The money comes, unashamedly, from gambling.

Hong Kong punters bet almost $140 billion in the past financial year on horse racing, football and lotteries, all operated by the Jockey Club, 82 per cent of which was returned to the punters.

The Jockey Club's director of charities, Douglas So, is responsible for handing out the "rebate" to both the punters and the rest of the community through the HKJC Charities Trust.

"In the last year, the Trust supported 155 different projects large and small," Mr So said.

"Together, they touched the lives of some 5.4 million Hong Kong residents, or three-quarters of the population."

The diversity of the Trust's operations is reflected in the recent establishment of Hong Kong's only public golf course and an accompanying golf academy that has already had 13,000 students.

Political or religious restrictions that might apply in other parts of China are notably absent in Hong Kong, a recent example being the $HK137 million donation to the HK Young Women's Christian Association to fund a senior citizens' rehabilitation centre.

The club also gave another $HK110m million this year to upgrade facilities in the territory's 250 elderly citizen centres, many of which it built.

Its donations over the past 15 years to Hong Kong's 11 universities is more than $HK3.2 billion.

The Hong Jockey Club is also one of the territory's largest employers, providing 26,400 full and part time jobs.

For better-or-worse, almost all of it is down to gambling.

On Sunday at the Hong Kong Jockey Club's major annual International race meeting punters invested some $1.2 billion on the 10 races.

Much of it went back to the lucky ones as dividends, but 13.2 per cent of all money bet at Hong's two race meetings a week also goes straight back to the community, including those who have never had a bet.