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Vincent Finegan

Vincent Finegan

Gambling Advertising

Constitution Hill Constitution Hill
© Photo Healy Racing

It is finally beginning to dawn on horse racing that the proposed Gambling Regulation Bill could have dire consequences for the industry if it gets passed into law in its current form.

The Bill covers all areas of gambling from the licensing of operators to protecting vulnerable individuals from the potential harm of problem gambling and the one area that is causing most concern within racing circles is the proposed banning of gambling advertising within a ‘watershed’ window between 5.30am and 9pm each day.

Most elements of the Irish Bill mirror the proposed reforms to Gambling Regulations in the UK, but the blanket ban on advertising during the watershed is not being considered in the UK and has presumably been borrowed from Australian legislation.

Last week both Sky Sports Racing and Racing TV expressed concerns about the new proposals and have indicated that if the ban on gambling advertising comes into law they may have to stop broadcasting the sport into Ireland.

The problem is not merely confined to the advertising breaks during the broadcasting of horse racing, but also the signage at the racecourses which are predominantly also gambling related advertising.

A similar ban on Gambling related promotions and advertising on sports programmes in Australia has made some exceptions - Telephone betting services (where you listen to commentaries), services that stream live sports over the internet, pay-per-view broadcasting and subscription television channels with a low audience share - are still allowed to have gambling advertisements.

Back in December of last year when Minister Of State for Law Reform and Youth Justice James Browne presented the Bill to the Dáil he said: “Importantly, the Bill provides for a watershed prohibiting the broadcast of gambling advertising on television and radio between the hours of 5:30am and 9:00pm. The Bill also provides for a wide-ranging power to allow the Authority to prescribe the times, places and events where gambling advertising can be broadcast, displayed or published, and to specify the frequency, duration and amount of advertisements.”

They have a similar watershed period in Australia (5am - 8.30pm) when “No gambling advertising or promotion of odds is permitted from 5 minutes before the published scheduled start of play, until 5 minutes after play, including during breaks.”

But horse racing is exempt from these additional Watershed regulations in Australia and it would certainly be surprising if horse racing didn’t get a similar exemption in the Irish legislation.

Horse racing in both Ireland and the UK has become completely reliant on bookmaker sponsorship and advertising over the last two decades as traditional companies have been pushed aside by the gambling juggernaut.

Twenty five years ago the top horses like triple Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq were competing in races sponsored by companies such as Smurfit, Shell, AIG Europe, AIB, Avonmore, Stanley Cookers and Deloitte And Touche.

Jameson, Heineken, Findus, Pierce, Bank of Ireland, Hennessy and Ericsson were other familiar names associated with race sponsorship at that time.

Now look at a horse like current Champion Hurdle winner Constitution Hill, his last six victories have been in races sponsored by William Hill, Unibet, Ladbrokes, Betfair, Skybet and Unibet again.

Gambling advertising and promotions have permeated every aspect of the sport. Just look at the presenters on the sport’s TV shows, the majority of them are affiliated with bookmakers in one way or another, and it’s the same with many of the leading trainers and jockeys who have lucrative sponsorship arrangements with them.

Horse Racing Ireland does a good job sugar-coating the sport as a major rural employer and pushing the economic benefits for the country, but gambling has become the key driver for everything.

Changing the subject, earlier this year RTÉ published an article which stated that the fatality rate in Irish horse racing is running at 0.3 per runner compared to 0.22 in the UK.

This works out that a horse racing in Ireland has a 36% higher chance of dying in a race than its UK counterpart. Quite a shocking statistic.

But within the Irish statistics there are even more alarming numbers. Punchestown racecourse is an outlier in the statistics and so far in 2023 the fatality rate at the Co. Kildare track is 1.25 per runner. This is 310% higher than the Irish average and almost 470% higher than the average in the UK.

Punchestown is a National Hunt track so you would expect the fatality rate to be higher than for courses that just race on the Flat, but even the UK National Hunt fatality rate is just 0.4 per runner compared to Punchestown’s 1.25 per runner.

Perhaps the Banks races have something to do with it, or maybe the field sizes are in some way contributing to the high numbers of horses killed at Punchestown, but finding what is causing the problem should be a priority.