The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way we live, work, study and socialise. The Hong Kong Jockey Club has forged on by utilising its resources and network to launch various measures under the unique integrated business model, which combines racing and racecourse entertainment, responsible sports wagering and lottery, membership club, and charities and community. Committed to the betterment of society, the Club stands strong with Hong Kong as we ride out the pandemic together.
Racing and Racecourse Entertainment – The Race Goes On
While many places around the world have suspended horse racing because of the pandemic, Hong Kong was able to carry on due to the tremendous effort put in by the Club. Everyone, regardless of their level or position, whether they are full-time or part-time employees, pulled together like an interconnecting link. The Club is still racing during such difficult time is because of the vital contribution the Club makes to Hong Kong as both its largest single taxpayer and one of the world’s top ten charity donors. Racing enables us to continue to contribute to society during this difficult time. In 2019/20 this enabled the Club to contribute HK$25.2 billion to the community, including HK$4.5 billion in approved charity donations.
Right from the start of the pandemic, the Club acted decisively and swiftly to create a “racing bubble”, which is the series of anti-epidemic protocols the Club implemented to protect the safety of jockeys and other racing related stakeholders. These protocols include regular testing of jockeys and related staff, restricting admission to only horse owners and related personnel, and temperature checks of everyone entering the racecourse. Even those permitted in the parade ring and owners posing with their winning horses have to adhere to strict social distancing measures.
Responsible Sports Wagering and Lottery – Going Digital and Caring for Our Customers
Mark Six, the lottery that has grown with Hong Kong over four decades was suspended for more than seven months during the pandemic. Nearly 100 Off-course Betting Branches were closed and telebet services were substantially scaled back. The Club has then utilised its digital platform including mobile apps, before the pandemic over 75 per cent of racing, football and Mark Six wagering transactions were conducted via digital channels and this rose to over 90 per cent at the height of the pandemic. The Club has therefore been able to maintain a full service throughout the pandemic.
Furthermore, Hong Kong has over one million racing fans. One of the key challenges facing the Club during the pandemic was how to help customers continue participating in their favourite sport, especially following the closure of Off-course Betting Branches. The Club also sped up and launched its Faster Payment System (FPS) in early February 2020 to enable racing fans to enjoy online, instant and secure funds transfer to and from 15 banks free of charge. The FPS service has been top-rated since its launch, with the Club becoming Hong Kong’s largest FPS merchant.
Membership Club – Hospitality with Heart
On the membership side, the clubhouses rigorously complied with the government guidelines during the pandemic, closing facilities as necessary and implementing health protection measures. At the height of the pandemic, the Club had to suspend all dine-in services in accordance with government regulations. In response the Club’s F&B team came up with some innovative ideas.
Even when the Clubhouses were closed the staff were fully occupied. In addition to maintaining contact with members they kept up a busy routine cleaning facilities, providing food and beverage support, managing staff needs and maintaining operational readiness. The opening of the new Happy Valley New Clubhouse was also being disrupted. However with the help of technology, essential training and instruction were carried out via video conferencing.
Charities and Community – Tackling the Pandemic Together
During the outbreak of pandemic, the Club responded as “speedy” (fund approvals process of emergency fund sped up to two weeks on average), “targeted” (delivery to the right people in need), and “innovative” (new and effective ways to help communities). While in the first wave of the pandemic, the Club mobilised its resources immediately, rolling out multiple programmes to assist the community. Within months, 16 million face masks were donated or funded in support of the Hospital Authority and vulnerable members of society.
Patients with chronic illnesses who could not collect medication from the hospitals were supported by the Club’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund which enables the Hong Kong Pharmaceutical Foundation to arrange for medication delivery in specially equipped vehicles, while providing counselling services via video or phone. Over 100,000 mobile SIM cards with data plans were distributed through primary and secondary schools to grassroots students. The community assistance initiatives also include the distribution of care packs; a food assistance programme; subsidies for care homes to improve anti-pandemic facilities; first-time job seeker scheme; and a programme supporting artists to develop online arts contents and showcase their works through digital platform. The Club felt it was important to promote social wellbeing within the community.
By the end of December 2020, the HKJC had helped over one million people in need, with a total donation of around HK$1 billion for anti-epidemic support programmes.
Hong Kong has faced many challenges during the pandemic. Throughout the Club has channelled the “can-do spirit”, maintaining racing for the sporting entertainment of Hong Kong, and through its support for the community staying true to its purpose
“The Betterment of Our Society”.