Statistics for the first half of 2013 suggest the impact of the recession on Irish racing may be bottoming out for most sectors of the industry – but not for on-course bookmakers.
Areas such as bloodstock sales, racecourse attendances and prizemoney have seen percentage increases in the first six months of this year, while the total number of horses in training, 7,626, is only marginally down on the corresponding figure in 2012.
But the fall in turnover with on-course bookmakers continues its apparently inexorable slide, down almost nine per cent to just less than €30 million, and the figures provoked an appeal yesterday for racecourses to take a more flexible approach to bookies’ costs.
"We have to pay five times the admission price to a meeting in a fee to racecourses, whether we go to the meeting or not. And there are times when bookmakers may feel they don't want to go racing, for any number of reasons, but you still feel you have to, and especially at the smaller meetings, bookmakers end up nearly choking each other for a bet that probably isn't even there anyway," said Ellen Martin of the Irish National Bookmakers Association.
"So it would be good if there was a bit of relief from racecourses to bookmakers who are under so much pressure. Racecourses are already getting money from SIS and I think it would be good for everybody if there was some sort of relief. We should all work together. Bookmakers don't expect to be charged nothing.
“But while there are some racecourses that are very good and make a huge effort to get punters through the gates, there are some who probably don’t even care if anyone comes . . ,” she added.
Yesterday's figures from Horse Racing Ireland indicated a rise in Tote turnover that only highlighted more the continuing slide in turnover with on-course bookmakers, something that has provoked a dramatic shrinking in the physical dimensions of the betting ring at some racecourses.
One layer yesterday said only 44 bookmakers stood at the Curragh on Derby day last month when there was a crowd of well over 20,000 in attendance.
"There's a difference between getting people through the gates, and punters. Some tracks put on sideshows and bands and so on, but most of those attracted by that don't bet with the bookmakers," said Martin who confirmed that a lot is riding again on next week's Galway festival for Ireland's bookmakers.
“Everybody wants to go to Galway because it’s big and there will be lots of people there. But it’s at the everyday meetings that you really see how things are, and see why everything else is stabilised, or on the way up, except for bookmaking,” she added.
“But I wouldn’t write us off. Yes, everything has changed in terms of technology and it’s very hard, but I’m not going to go anywhere.”
Despite a 7.1 per cent drop in total racecourse betting to less than €50 million in the first half of this year, official attendance figures were up by over half of one per cent to 498,757. Average attendance was up by the same to 3,157.
"Attendances improved marginally, despite a cold and wet spring. The Festival meetings performed well and a good summer season should strengthen this trend," said HRI's chief executive Brian Kavanagh. "Most measures of the performance of Irish racing stabilised or improved in the first half of 2013."
One notable improvement was in bloodstock sales at public auction which in the first six months grew for the fourth consecutive year, with turnover up 12.7 per cent from €22.9 to €25.8 million year-on-year.
“A strong race programme with competitive prize-money is essential in underpinning our breeding industry and improved long-term funding, combined with sponsorship growth is needed to improve Ireland’s position internationally,” stressed Kavanagh.
“In this respect, the proposed Betting Amendment Act to extend taxation to online and remote betting and exchange operators, will be key to securing the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund into the future,” he added.