Hi-tech horse racing wizardry down at Happy Valley

happy valley racecourseI was at Hong Kong’s world famous Happy Valley racecourse the other week to get the low-down on the IT set up there.

IT leaders at the Hong Kong Jockey Club are frequent participants in local technology-related events and with good reason.

The unique pressures of not only running an organisation with over 20,000 employees but also an infrastructure which needs to support the storage, management and delivery of vast quantities of real-time racing data, as well as secure betting transactions, must be enough to keep anyone awake at night.

HKJC apparently has to deal with something like six million bets on a typical race day, so the system needs to be able to hold its own.

I was shown around the non-profit’s latest project – the IBU (Interactive Best for You) table – by director of programme management, Scarlette Leung.

She explained that the table was designed from scratch in a process starting back in 2009.

The fully touchscreen affair is designed to attract a younger, professional group to the sport – people who aren’t familiar with form and just want to have a fun night out, with a bit of betting in between food and drinks.

Although pretty much a novice at this sort of thing, it didn’t take me long to get used to the drag and drop interface, which displayed info by four easy to understand parameters – ability, jockey and trainer, fitness and draw. Payment is via a PIN-locked smart card, which makes it even more user-friendly, and even I managed to win a few dollars.

IBU table

More interesting to me was the infrastructure behind it. Leung explained that the most challenging bit of the project was integrating the front end IBU and video displays with back-end infrastructure including smart card account management, odds and racing stats, security etc. The whole project was pushed through using Agile and Waterfall methodologies with a US manufacturer responsible for building the IBUs.

Leung was coy on future plans for the Club, but I could imagine seeing a few more of these tables on the way, and for the smart card system to be made more ubiquitous for payments at the ground and Sha Tin.

Given the SOA is reusable, the same simplified IBU betting experience could also potentially be pushed out in a mobile app form.

Either way, Happy Valley is world’s away from the kind of horse racing experience most UK betting fans are likely to see – but whether this kind of hi-tech whizz bangery will catch on in Blighty remains to be seen.

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