Betting on Ireland’s racecourses continues to decline
HRI boss Brian Kavanagh concedes: ‘It’s very hard to see a way in which it will turn around’
Total on-course betting was €33.8 million down 6.4 per cent. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The unrelenting decline of on-course betting in Ireland was illustrated by another stark dip in turnover on the country’s racecourses in the first half of this year.
Horse Racing Ireland’s statistical report for the first six months of 2017 showed growth in many areas of the thoroughbred industry including a 17.7 per cent increase in bloodstock sales.
There were also increases in field sizes for both flat and National Hunt racing as well an 8.4 per cent increase in prizemoney to €27.6 million.
The impact of running the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh with a 6,000 attendance limit was felt in a slight decline in attendance figures overall for the first half of the year.
However with the famous Galway festival set to start in two weeks’ time, it is another significant decline in on-course betting which stands out as a major concern for racing officials.
Total on-course betting dropped another 6.4 per cent to €33.8 million. Tote betting on Ireland’s tracks slipped over ten per cent to €4.3 million despite total Tote betting being up nine per cent at €48.2 million.
On course bookmakers handled just €29.5 million in the first half of this year, a 5.8 per cent slide on the same period of 2016.
Total on-course betting for the whole of 2008 reached over €230 million. By 2014 that had slipped to just over €138,679.
“It’s very hard to see a way in which it will turn around,” conceded Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh on Monday.
“But we will work with the Tote and bookmakers to see if there’s a way to stop that decline because I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interests that this would continue to fall. I still remain positive it can be halted.
“But we have to be aware there are changes in people’s behaviour in terms of mobile and online. You even see it at the races with people betting on the phone. That used to be a problem in the past in terms avoiding tax and at least some tax is being captured on it now.
“Every year you feel it’s reached the bottom but this applies across the board. You see how the betting figures at the Punchestown festival didn’t match the attendance figures,” he added.
Kavanagh stressed he feels the slight dip in attendances for the first half of this year are a blip in terms of overall trends.
“This is an exceptional season in terms of the construction of the Curragh and generally the trends are positive. You can see the bigger meetings getting bigger as well as the summer festivals.
“It is tracks that race frequently and on non-festival days, that’s where the challenge lies in terms of attracting attendances,” he said.
The HRI boss repeated that Brexit poses “huge challenges” for Ireland’s bloodstock industry and outlined how HRI has made a submission to the Department of Finance’s Tax Strategy Group on how the Horse & Greyhound Fund can be fully financed from betting duty.
“We’ve pointed out the anomaly that the taxation rates on betting are significantly below corresponding rates in other countries. They are also significantly below rates on other forms of consumption and significantly below the rate of VAT on normal goods that are subject to VAT,” Kavanagh said.
“Racing provides a significant return for the Government and a very high return in comparison to other forms of stimulus for the rural economy in particular. Racing is a very good bet for the Government,” he added.
Selection of HRI Statistics For First Half Of 2017:
Total Runners – 13,627 up 7.8 per cent
Flat runners – 5,714 up 6.2 per cent
National Hunt runners – 7,913 up 8.9 per cent
Total On-Course Betting – €33.8 million down 6.4 per cent
On Course Bookmaker Betting – €29.5m down 5.8%
On Course Tote – €4.3m down 10.4%
Total Tote Betting – €48.2m up 9%
Off-Course Tote (Irish Pools) – €40.8m up 12.1%
Off Course Tote (International Pools) – €3.1m up 3.3%
Total Attendances – 519,425 down 3.8%
Average Attendance – 3,206 down 3.2%
Fixtures – 162 down 1.2%
Horses In Training – 7.057 up 0.5%
Active Owners – 2,967 up 2.6%
Total Prizemoney – €27.6m up 8.4 %
Total Race Sponsorship – €3.4m up 6.1%