Dark clouds hover over bookies

Thu, Jul 19, 2012, 01:00

THE GALWAY festival begins in 11 days and even more focus will be on Irish racing’s biggest betting week of the year. However, figures released yesterday showed a near- €10 million drop in turnover for on-course bookmakers for the first half of 2012.

Horse Racing Ireland’s statistical review for the first six months of this year continued a dramatic decline in betting with its estimate that by the end of the year on-course bookmaker turnover could fall by as much as 60 per cent since 2007.

Tote betting also fell by 1.4 per cent, to €24.5 million, for the first half of this year, while the average attendance at Ireland’s racetracks fell by 5.3 per cent to 3,139. The numbers of horses in training, a key indicator of the economic strength of the industry, also fell sharply by 6.7 per cent from 7,668 in the same period last year.

Overall, apart from an increase in bloodstock sales, Horse Racing Ireland’s figures present a gloomy picture of a sector continuing to feel the effects of the recession.

For the first half of 2012, the turnover of bookmakers fell by a massive 19 per cent to €39.7 million. It continues a rapid decline in a business that many see as being on borrowed time due to continued pressure from betting exchanges and off-shore bookmakers.

“It’s very hard for us now,” said Ellen Martin of the Irish National Bookmakers Association. “With the internet everything has changed. Everything is technology now and it’s hard to compete with the exchanges.

“The one thing on our side is that if a punter wins, he gets his cash in hand, while you have to wait with the exchanges.

“I’m in Killarney this week,” Ms Martin added, “and there’s a lovely crowd. And Galway is good. Every year we think Galway is what will keep the ship afloat, but Listowel isn’t a fraction of what it was. In everyday meetings you see all the various ingredients in a recipe for decline.

“The days of farmers taking five grand out of the mattress and heading for Listowel are long gone. Modern farmers are working and there’s so much more for everyone else. There are matches and concerts every weekend now.”

Betting turnover at the Galway festival can reach approximately €13 million and is traditionally a bank-roll for the betting industry for the rest of the year.

However, the bad summer weather being endured at the moment could have a substantial role to play at Ballybrit as HRI yesterday pointed to the impact of the appalling conditions that affected the Punchestown Festival in April.

“The drop in average attendance at race-meetings can be largely attributed to the increased number of fixtures in the period and the unprecedented weather conditions endured by the Punchestown Festival and other fixtures in the second quarter. This was also a major factor affecting the Tote’s on-course performance,” the HRI statement said.

Ms Martin said it would be a disaster for bookmakers if the weather was bad at Galway. “Every second person has an iPhone now and if it rains, they will just all head inside. If it rains, I might as well just bring my knitting.”

HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh again pointed to the need for taxation of offshore betting to provide sustainable funding to the racing industry in Ireland.

“The completion of the review of the industry commissioned by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, based on the Indecon consultants’ report and the imminent legislation on taxation of betting will together be the most important developments for the funding and administration of Irish racing since the establishment of HRI in 2001,” he said.

“All parties have engaged in a comprehensive round of consultation, which gives hope that a consensus on the way forward can be found. Above all, we hope for a new and sustainable basis for funding and developing this industry, in which Ireland remains a world leader and which can play a major role in overall economic recovery.”