Monday, September 5, 2011

Lottery Fever Heats Up Hong Kong

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. Chairman Li Ka-shing fielded a personal question at a news conference Friday in Hong Kong: “I’ve never bought lottery tickets before. For one I don’t really know how to buy, and…if I win I would have to donate the money back to society!”

While Hong Kong’s richest man isn’t interested in the lottery, he may be in the minority as the jackpot for a single winning ticket reached 100 million Hong Kong dollars (US$12.9 million).

Lines of eager gamblers spilled out of Hong Kong Jockey Club branches across the city to throw their hats into the ring for the Mark Six lottery drawing to take place at 9:30 p.m. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which manages the city’s popular horse races, also operates the Mark Six lottery and soccer betting programs, donating its surplus to charity. All other types of gambling are illegal in this former British colony.

The Jockey Club got its start managing Hong Kong’s horse-racing industry. “Horse racing in Hong Kong commenced in 1841 with the arrival of the British, who immediately set about draining a malarial swamp to form a racetrack at Happy Valley,” according to the Jockey Club’s website. “With the exception of a few years during World War II, the track has seen non-stop action ever since,” it added. In the 2010 financial year, the club generated US$2.72 billion in betting and lottery revenue.

The Stanley Street Jockey Club branch, in the city’s downtown Central district, was particularly crowded as ticket-buyers said it was the luckiest branch, historically yielding the most top prizes.

Local media showed footage of children tugging on security guards’ uniforms, as they waited for their parents at the door. Kids aren’t allowed in the betting branches.

The frenzy in Hong Kong shouldn’t be entirely unexpected–the popularity of gambling in Asia is perhaps nowhere more evident than in neighboring Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal. Gambling revenue in Macau has risen 43% over the previous year as of the end of April. It is on track this year to reach US$30 billion–or five times the gambling revenue of the Las Vegas Strip, formerly the world’s gambling capital.

Casino operators in the Chinese territory expect the May 15 opening of Hong Kong-listed Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd.’s new $2 billion casino complex will bring more bets yet.

Analysts predict nearby Singapore, which welcomed its first casinos last year, could overtake the Las Vegas Strip’s gambling revenue this year.

But, if you’re in Hong Kong, you can forget about Baccarat. Lotteries are one of the few ways to try your luck.

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