Irish horseracing to stay on track despite UK betting shop closures
Racecourses’ ability to top up prize money may come under pressure, says HRI boss
Frankie Dettori riding Enable to win the Coral Eclipse at Sandown Park on Saturday. Last week the British Horseracing Authority announced it was cutting 20 fixtures from next year’s programme. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Irish racing’s top official maintains it is too early to quantify the potential financial impact on the sport here of UK betting shop closures, although next year’s fixture list is unlikely to be affected.
The supply of pictures from Irish racing to cross-channel betting shops is a central element to the sport’s media rights deal announced last year and which runs until 2023.
However, the impact of a drastic reduction in the maximum stake on controversial fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which had been a key element in betting shop profits in the UK, was felt last week when William Hill announced the closure of almost 700 shops in the coming months.
Other firms are expected to follow suit and the impact on the levy system which underpins prize money for British racing is expected to be dramatic. Last week the British Horseracing Authority announced it was cutting 20 fixtures from next year’s programme. However, on Sunday Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), said no fixture cuts for 2020 are expected here.
“Work has started on next year’s fixtures and the instructions from the board [of HRI] have been for the same as last year or perhaps a modest increase. That’s dependent on funding but I don’t see an impact on the fixtures for next year,” he said.
The HRI boss said he was “concerned” about more betting shop closures in Britain and added that racecourses would face the brunt of the impact in terms of revenue loss here.
Almost 85 per cent of the money generated under the current media rights deal goes to Ireland’s 26 racecourses, with the balance going to HRI. In the past sources have estimated the value of the current deal at an estimated €35 million per year.
Kavanagh said he does not believe gloomy economic forecasts for the future of betting shops – shorn of the spectacular profits generated by FOBTs – will have a long-term impact on the value of Irish racing’s media rights.
“I would be concerned about betting shops closures, obviously. But it’s possible to argue the number of betting shops in the UK was artificially high anyway, based on the profitability of FOBTs,” he said.
The challenge for us is to make Irish racing as desirable a product as possible for the betting public
“I don’t think anyone can argue that the move on FOBTs wasn’t the right one and there is a school of thought that says it gives racing an opportunity to become more prominent in betting shops again.
“The challenge for us is to make Irish racing as desirable a product as possible for the betting public,” Kavanagh added.
The chief executive of Irish racing’s ruling body recalled past predictions about the demise of betting shops, and even cash betting, and pointed to estimates of up to 8,000 shops still operating in the UK even after expected upcoming closures.
Media rights landscape
That, he said, will still see the sector being the most lucrative aspect of any media rights landscape, although Kavanagh also said there will be a renewed focus from HRI and others on streaming and international rights.
Some racecourses have been putting in their own funds in an attempt to keep prize money competitive
However, even though prize money levels are unlikely to be immediately affected here, any reduced revenue from UK betting shops may have an impact on some Irish racecourses’ ability to top up prize money levels.
“Some racecourses have been putting in their own funds in an attempt to keep prize money competitive. That will come under pressure.
“It’s been happening for two to three years now. Punchestown started it. They felt their bigger races were coming under pressure from other festivals such as Aintree.
“Leopardstown did it for the Dublin Racing Festival and Christmas. The Curragh have done it and Galway in relation to their upcoming festival.
“But racecourses are in better shape now than I’ve seen them in a long time,” Kavanagh commented.