Frustrated on-course bookmakers request ‘new norm’ roadmap

Irish bookmakers haven’t operated since March due to the coronavirus pandemic

A jockey sits where the bookmakers would usually set up at Down Royal. File photograph: Inpho

A jockey sits where the bookmakers would usually set up at Down Royal. File photograph: Inpho

 

The body representing on-course bookmakers wants a roadmap from Horse Racing Ireland outlining a “new norm” that can allow them to resume work at racecourses.

Bookmakers haven’t operated since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, including since racing resumed behind closed doors last month.

On the eve of Galway festival, traditionally one of the busiest weeks of the year for layers, the Irish National Bookmakers Association has expressed frustration about a lack of clarity in relation to when greater attendances will be allowed at tracks again.

The INBA’s chairman Ray Mulvaney pointed to greyhound racing as a sector that has adapted to government guidelines on Covid-19 which restrict outdoor attendances at events to just 200 people. Bookmakers are allowed work at greyhound meetings in front of such limited crowd numbers.

“I appreciate they (HRI) are working with government guidelines. But their sister sport, the Irish Greyhound Board, have reopened and they’re marshalling a new norm.

“They have 200 people outdoors, an owner and a trainer per greyhound, and 50 people can buy a ticket online for the main grandstand.

“I think it is welcome they’ve reopened and are trying to get to a new norm. Yet their sister sport, which is the bigger sport, both of whom are marshalled by the Department of Agriculture (have not.) It ‘s just a question I have,” Mulvaney said.

At Goodwood this Saturday a trial meeting with up to 5,000 racegoers allowed attend will take place ahead of British government plans to allow fans return to sports stadia from October 1st.

Earlier this month the French government allowed crowds of up to 5,000 go to sporting events again - including race-meetings - provided people wear face-masks.

However in Ireland the deferment of Phase Four of the national plan for easing of pandemic restrictions means an increase in crowds of up to 500 people isn’t planned for another couple of weeks.

HRI has said its priority then will be to allow owners return. It has refused to give any date about when the public might go racing again. It has already announced that both Irish Champions Weekend and the Listowel festival will take place behind closed doors in September.

Mulvaney described that decision as “premature” and said he is glad to see the move to allow racegoers at Goodwood next weekend.

“You see in England, where the pandemic seems to be an awful lot worse, they are trying to come up with a new norm. We know about Goodwood and the snooker and the cricket matches are going to take place. I’m glad to see they are making some strive towards a new norm,” he said.

Mulvaney described the mood among Ireland’s on-course bookmakers as “frustrated.”

He said: “For bookmakers and their staff, the summer has come and gone. Galway is this week. We’ve found out Listowel will be gone for us and so will Champions Weekend. We’re probably looking at the next festival being Christmas. So the whole year has come and gone for my industry.

“I am well aware the government is trying to get a handle on this and we would like to be part of a structured solution. It’s a difficult period and unfortunately that’s the way the world is at the moment.

“We are all waiting until August 10th to see what the next stage will be. But I certainly would like a roadmap of some sort from HRI.

“They’re doing well getting racing off and credit to them. But there has to be a time when a new norm will become available.”

The absence of bookmakers at Galway will come on the back of last year’s encouraging outcome at Ballybrit for the beleaguered on-track betting ring.

A sector decimated by the growth of online betting saw a rise in turnover for the first time in over a decade at Galway with just over €6.8 million bet in the ring. That was up almost half a million Euro on 2018.

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