Willie Mullins warns of impact on racing from gambling advertising ban

Champion trainer says he is intrigued by how advertising on National Lottery can continue under proposed new legislation

Willie Mullins has warned of the impact from the proposed new Gambling Regulation Bill that threatens day-to-day coverage of Irish racing, a situation the record-breaking champion jumps trainer believes has the sport caught in the crossfire of a gambling rather than racing problem.

The specialist cross-channel stations, Racing TV, which has coverage of Irish racing behind a paywall, and Sky Sports, have threatened to withdraw their coverage in Ireland if an advertising ban between 5.30am and 9pm goes ahead under the new legislation.

Both organisations claim such a scenario will make their products unviable in Ireland and their withdrawal would result in day-to day coverage of Irish racing being unavailable on TV screens here.

Hopes for an exemption, such as is the case for specialist subscription channels in Australia, appear to be fading as the legislation is readied to be put before the Dáil, perhaps next month.


Fianna Fáil junior minister James Browne has shown no signs of being swayed by repeated warnings of possible job losses and a decline in racehorse ownership rates if the advertising ban is put in place.

Last week he appeared to criticise the sport’s ruling body, Horse Racing Ireland, for negotiating a new media-rights deal worth €47 million, of which home-viewing is relatively small element, despite his forthcoming legislation.

The Minister has also said he doesn’t accept there will be a loss of coverage and that last week’s ESRI report on rates of problem gambling in Ireland underlines the urgency of the new Bill.

Nevertheless, leading figures in Irish racing have predicted serious consequences on the sector if it isn’t ring-fenced from the ban, and on Sunday Mullins even likened the situation to the prohibition era in United States during the 1920s and 30s.

“We have to say when you ban something it becomes more popular, doesn’t it?” he said. “That [prohibition] is the biggest one of all time. You ban drink and everyone goes underground. Then you have black market stuff.”

He also pointed to the National Lottery, which is covered under different legislation, and how advertising around that can continue under the new Bill.

“What intrigues me is how the Lotto is exempt. That’s national TV and that’s where people really get hooked on stuff. [But] that’s not going to be touched,” Mullins argued.

“Racing is an integral part of the lives of a lot of Irish people, especially an older generation, who watch racing on TV in the afternoons when there’s no other live sport on. It’s part of an Irish DNA, so to be deprived of racing through this law, which won’t stop gambling, is an unfortunate thing.

“I sympathise with people who have a problem. But in all walks of life we have different problems, different diseases, let it be smoking, drinking, gambling; in banking you have people who embezzle money.

“When you have people, you’re going to have problems and I’m not sure risking the fate of the industry and the amount of people it employs, and the amount of goodwill it has, outweighs the problem.

“The problem has to be tackled but I feel it has to be tackled in a better way. Maybe the betting companies themselves need to take more responsibility for the [gambling] industry and be seen to take more responsibility, because it’s a gambling problem rather than a racing problem,” he added.

The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA), of which Mullins is a former chairman, has warned of substantial job losses should any advertising ban result in the loss of TV pictures.

The IRTA’s chief executive Ryan McElligott predicted a downturn in the numbers of horses in training and consequent job losses in yards if owners aren’t able to watch their animals in action on TV.

That point was also made at the weekend by top trainer Jessica Harrington who told the Racing Post: “I have a lot of owners from all over the place and they live for the fact that they can watch their horses run on television.

“We’ve come an awful long way and got the pictures from all the racecourses, and we’ve got to keep it going. We can’t afford to let that go.

“How much is being gambled on all the other things apart from racing? Has anyone done an exercise to break it all down?

“Even if breaking it down doesn’t turn out to be to our advantage, we ought to know the real facts because, at the moment, all forms of gambling are being tarnished with one brush.

“Not everybody gambles and the people who are gambling bet on all sorts of different things, not just racing.

“We haven’t really got the facts. It’s like the British voting for Brexit when they didn’t know what it meant.

“We need to ask our TDs whether they really understand everything. They need to stop being reactive. The product we have here in Ireland is not promoting gambling, it’s promoting the industry and the employment that it brings.”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column