Hong Kong does not have its own fully professional football league and its national team sits in 148th place in FIFA’s rankings, alongside the likes of Lesotho and Palestine. And yet, when it comes to betting on football, Hong Kong definitely ranks near the top of the premier league.
In 2012/2013 the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), the monopoly betting operator, reported a turnover of HK$ 50.6 billion (US$ 6.5 billion) on football betting. That equates to nearly US$ 1,000 for every one of the special administrative region’s six million adults.
It was only a decade ago (2003/2004) that the HKJC was permitted to offer football betting, expanding from its mainstay of betting on horseracing. In that decade turnover has risen threefold from HK$ 16.1 billion to HK$ 50.6 billion.
Moving into football betting was a risk for the HKJC. It was always going to be popular with Hong Kong gamblers but it was the first time that the HKJC would be offering fixed-odds betting rather than the pari-mutuel betting it had offered on horses.
The HKJC’s performance should be set against the competition it faces from both offshore and illegal operators.
“we are able to offer fewer matches and bet types than many of our illegal and offshore competitors, who are able to attract customers with more competitive odds, as they pay no tax, and lure customers with credit betting and other socially undesirable incentives.”
One of the HKJC’s primary functions is to support social, sporting and charitable causes in Hong Kong and the growth of football betting is helping to fund improvements in Hong Kong’s football leagues.
The HKJC has sponsored a number of training programmes for youth football.
Young players who show potential are then eligible to undertake year-round training and to join the Jockey Club Elite Youth Football Camp, where they can train with coaches from the Manchester United Soccer School. The Jockey Club is also contributing HK$ 44 million (US$ 5.6 million) towards the building of a new youth training centre at the Kitchee Football Club in Shek Mun.
In years to come it would be no surprise to see Hong Kong’s footballing standard rise to something closer to the level of its citizens’ betting prowess.