Plans to regulate gambling in the Republic should not “legislate horse racing out of existence” a leading industry figure has warned.
Racing figures fear a proposed pre-watershed ban on betting adverts in the Government’s Gambling Regulation Bill threatens broadcasting coverage of the sport, damaging racetrack revenues and horse ownership.
Barry Gibson, chairman of Ladbrokes bookmaker’s owner Entain, argues that the legislation needs to take into account the important role that horse racing plays in many parts of the Republic, particularly in rural areas.
“You have to be careful not to legislate it out of existence,” he said. Instead of a blanket ban, Mr Gibson maintains that the gambling regulator, which the new law will establish, should work out the details of how betting advertising should be controlled.
Racing TV, a specialist subscription channel that provides daily coverage of Irish racing, warned last month that the proposed ban could end broadcasts of the sport in the Republic.
Irish tracks, and racehorse trainers and owners, say the proposal will hit revenues, endangering a business that employs 30,000 people and generates €2.46 billion a year, mostly benefiting rural Ireland.
The legislation needs to take into account that betting is integral to horse racing, according to Mr Gibson, who predicted that a blanket ban would damage both.
“It would be grossly unfair to stop gambling companies from having advertising opportunities at racecourses,” he said.
The Department of Justice said that the legislation took care to accommodate horse racing and would not prohibit visible gambling advertising during televised meetings.
“The presence of trackside betting and use of trackside gambling advertising and the sponsorship of jockeys’ colours are permissible under the Bill,” said a statement.
[ Gambling a problem for one in 30 adults in Ireland, higher than previously thought – ESRI ]
Opponents of the proposal say that specialist, subscription-based racing channels should be exempt, which is the case in Britain and Australia.
Racing TV channel subscribers must be over 18, which they say fits with the law’s aim of protecting children from gambling marketing.
Mr Gibson argued that it was hard to legislate for a new regulatory system, as it is not possible to predict everything that can happen.
Consequently, Gambling Regulatory Authority chief executive designate Anne Caulfield should consult with the industry to ensure that the new system works, he said.
This would help develop the industry and protect gamblers, he added. “The regulator should have the responsibility to help promote a healthy betting and gaming industry and to protect its customers,” said Mr Gibson.
“The Bill is not about stopping gambling,” he added. “The presentation of odds, representing legitimate, objective information would not be considered a form of advertising under the legislation.”
The department noted that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice recommended the ban.
Entain-owned Ladbrokes is a big player in the Irish market. Mr Gibson stressed that the company backed the proposed Gambling Regulation Bill
Mr Gibson stressed that the group broadly supported the Gambling Regulation Bill and its aims.
The Oireachtas published the Bill’s second draft in July. Minister of State at the Department of Justice James Browne is promoting the legislation.
Research published by the Economic and Social Research Institute this week showed problem gambling is an issue for one in 30 adults in Ireland, 10 times higher than previously measured in 2019.
The study was commissioned through the implementation team supporting the establishment of the new Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland and the department.
Mr Gibson made his comments as stockbroker-turned-racehorse trainer Barry Connell warned of an “Armageddon” for the sport if an advert ban forced it off television screens. He joined calls for the law to accommodate specialist broadcasters. “You’re only going to watch Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing if you’re a racing fan,” he told the Racing Post.
Mr Connell, well known to Irish business people from his previous career, trained Marine Nationale to win the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. He argued there was a distinction between “games of skill” and those of “pure chance”, such as the National Lottery.