Bookmaker's row clouds IHA's five year plan


THE LONG awaited five year strategic plan for the development of the Irish racing industry was launched by the Irish Horseracing Authority (IHA) at a press conference in Dublin yesterday.

But the current dispute between the on course bookmakers and the IHA is of more immediate interest in that Leopardstown's important meeting on Saturday will be held without the presence of bookmakers if the dispute is not solved in the meantime.

Denis Brosnan, chairman of the IHA, said yesterday that the issue would be discussed at a meeting of the IHA which was scheduled to be held yesterday evening while an extraordinary general meeting of the Irish Bookmakers Association is being held today.

If the course bookmakers strike goes ahead as planned, Ladbrokes will return their own prices for Saturday's Ladbroke Hurdle meeting, offering a price service, including their version of an SP, based on money taken in their offices. Leopardstown already supplies the manpower to run the Leopardstown betting shop (Tote Arena) for the IHA.

The dispute centres on the intention of the Leopardstown betting shop to accept bets on Saturday's meeting which the course bookmakers are set against as, they claim, it will militate against their interests - though the tax on bets is only half of what by law pertains in the betting shop.

The course bookmakers are also concerned about potential losses to their lesser brethren.

The bookmakers point out that the IHA has consistently rejected the on course bookmakers' petitions to ban SP shops on course. However, the bookmakers have since compromised by supporting these shops but demanded that betting on the home meetings be restricted.

They further state that race course bookmakers collect £3.5 million for the IHA in the form of levy and £500,000 in pitch fees annually. They believed that they had secured an agreement verbal - to this effect but now hold that "agreement" has not been honoured. Unless the issue is resolved the next three important Leopardstown meetings could be banned by the bookmakers resulting in an estimated loss of £200,000 to their members.

Four years ago to this day Paddy Power Bookmakers first racecourse shop was closed down at Leopardstown as the course bookmakers were set against the" introduction of SP shops on course.

In October 1995 the bookmakers went on strike when the SP shop was reintroduced. In November of that year the authority compromised by ruling that for the first six months of operation in the Tote Arena home bets in multiples would be accepted and for the next six months no home bets in multiples would be accepted. That agreement ended on December 31st, 1996.

The authority plans to establish a high street Tote business by 1999, aiming to achieve turnover of £7 million by the year 2001 increasing from £2 million in the first year. Targeted net contribution from the Tote by the end of the period of the plan is £2.5 million per annum.

It is also planned to replace the existing Tote information technology system with a modern on line system. This is regarded as a prerequisite for the development of the business.

Further plans for this most vital of services is to restructure and rationalise the Tote, examining all options, including franchising. The authority aims to reduce the Tote's operating costs from 18.4 per cent of turnover to 12 per cent by the year 2001, reducing to 10 per cent thereafter.

On course cash and credit betting turnover it is hoped will grow by 5 per cent per annum to £21.6 million by 2001 and to increase of off course betting from £2.5 million to £5.7 million by that year.

There will be teething troubles, not least the passing of legislation for late opening of high street Tote shops during evening racing from May to September. Clearly, bookmaker shops will ask for this facility.

An Irish satellite television racing channel will be created so that live pictures of Irish racing will be available in betting outlets on the high street and for the domestic market to commence during 1998.

It is planned to upgrade the facilities on racecourses by investing, jointly with the racecourses, £30 million under the Capital Development Fund. This is because of the potential to attract new patrons - "an appeal to youth, and female patrons" and resultant growth in betting and sponsorship.

Eighty per cent of the fund will, be spent on eight key racecourses. These are the Curragh, Leopardstown, Fairyhouse, Punchestown, Cork (Mallow), Galway, Listowel and the planned new racecourse at Greenmount, Limerick.

A concerted marketing campaign by the authority will be launched, and by giving assistance and incentives to the racecourses, attendances, betting and sponsorship will be substantially increased over the period of the plan.

A merit system will be introduced in race planning under which better fixtures will be allocated to those racecourses with the best performance under the headings of investment, attendances, sponsorship and betting.

Race planning will also be used to improve the competitiveness and quality of racing and, in particular, to ensure that racing is staged at Venues and at times that will bring the best return to the industry.

It should be stated that the authority does not plan to close any racecourse but self help from race courses will be required.

On course bookmaker betting will be substantially increased over the period of the plan so as to improve the yield from the levy.

Betting shops will be established at all the leading racecourses and prize money will be substantially increased so as to improve the return to owners, Ladbrokes reported strong support for Family Way for the Ladbroke Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday yesterday and have cut his price to 8 to second favourite from 10 to 1. Penny A Day has been eased to 9 to 1 from 8 to 1 by the sponsors. "Family Way has been well supported today, giving J P McManus, the first two in The Ladbroke betting," said spokesman Ian Wassell.