Racecourse bookmakers face uncertain future over impact of coronavirus

‘It would be naive to say people will come back to their jobs in such uncertain times’

A view of the bookmakers at Leopardtown over the Christmas festival. Photograph:  Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

A view of the bookmakers at Leopardtown over the Christmas festival. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Ireland’s racecourse bookmakers are facing a grim economic outlook as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow.

Bookmakers are among those banned from attending racetracks under Ireland’s policy of continuing to race behind closed doors.

That policy is in place until March 29th, although fears about whether even that can continue increased on Tuesday with British racing deciding to come to a halt until the end of April.

Either way it leaves on-course bookmakers unable to work and the consequences are likely to be far reaching according to the chairman of the Irish National Bookmakers Association.

“Things are at a standstill for bookmakers for the foreseeable future. There are 80 bookmakers left in Ireland without work. Obviously the bigger picture is what the authorities are doing to try and overcome this. What can you do only rally round and get on with it,” Ray Mulvaney said.

“[But] we have no income. Like most things some guys can get through for a few months, whereas others can’t. It’s like any other industry and we’re no different.

“There are senior or more mature bookmakers who might have other incomes. But there are also bookmakers who will definitely be struggling.

“It’s like most industries. Some of the smaller guys, and part-time guys, they’ll have to try and go about getting revenue in a different way. If they come back, I’m not so sure. It would be naive to say people will come back to their jobs in such uncertain times,” he added.

Mulvaney wouldn’t predict if racing will be open to the public again by the March 29th deadline but admitted: “If we’re back within a month I’d be very happy.”

In the normal course of events the upcoming festivals at Fairyhouse and Punchestown are vital for racecourse bookmakers but the outlook for both is uncertain.

“You’d have to think Fairyhouse is vulnerable. I would be optimistic that Punchestown will go ahead. Those tracks need revenue to keep themselves going.

“In the bigger picture you want Fairyhouse and Punchestown to flourish. I hope we’re back for Fairyhouse but let’s see. I’m watching the news and when you see it you get more and more worried.

“Cheltenham went ahead – whether it went ahead foolishly or not, that’s another argument – but Fairyhouse and Punchestown are important. They’re quite lucrative bearing in mind you’ve got the crowds and the money there,” he said.

Looking further ahead to the economic aftermath of the global pandemic, Mulvaney admitted the financial outlook for entertainment businesses generally is unclear.

“Will people come back racing? And if they do come back will they able to spend? We’ll be in a recession you’d imagine.

“Will they want to go back to the pubs, the restaurants, the races. Will they have the money to have a bet, or buy a newspaper, or go to the pub, or the cinema, a holiday or change their car. It’s all very uncertain and worrying,” he said.

Off-course it has already been confirmed that the majority of Ireland’s betting shops are set to close within 24 hours as a result of coronavirus.

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