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Vincent Finegan

Vincent Finegan

What is the Social & Economic impact of Irish racing?

Average attendance per meeting was 3,216 in 2022Average attendance per meeting was 3,216 in 2022
© Photo Healy Racing

Last week Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) published a report into the social and economic impact of the breeding and racing industry in Ireland which it commissioned Deloitte to compile on its behalf.

The headline figures, which have been widely circulated, are that the industry has flourished since Deloitte’s previous assessment of the industry which was published in 2017 - up 34% in many key areas relating to the economic impact.

All these key metrics are based on complicated statistical modelling which can be very difficult to decipher. While I’m certainly not qualified to do that, as a punter I’m well used to questioning statistics and trends in order to find the true merit of arguments.

We may know three-year-olds have a brilliant record in the Derby, but that information is useless if you're trying to find the winner.

One of the big headline figures in the 2023 Report is that the industry now supports 30,350 full time equivalent staff compared to 28,900 in the previous 2017 report also compiled by Deloitte.

What is somewhat baffling about these two figures is that the 2017 report put the total number of people working directly within the industry as 9,500 while the 2023 report shows that number has now dropped to 9,400.

So there are 100 fewer core workers within the breeding and racing industry now (2022 data) than there were in the 2017 report (2016 data), but the number of jobs supported by the industry has increased by 1,450.

Less people are employed in the core industry, yet an additional 1,300 people are now employed in “directly related employment” such as farriers and Vets.

2017 report: “A further c.5,700 jobs are in directly related employment, many in equine focussed jobs such as veterinary, farriery, transport, feed manufacturers etc.”

2023 report: “A further c.7,000 jobs are attributable to directly related employment. This includes individuals in equine-related roles like veterinarians and farriers, as well as those working in related agricultural, and leisure roles.”

I’m not quite sure what happened here, but all we can say for certain is that Deloitte added the word ‘attributable’ and then included ‘related agriculture and leisure roles’ and all of a sudden we have 1,300 jobs that didn’t exist in the 2017 report.

2023 report: “The betting sector in Ireland is intrinsically linked to Irish racing, and many fewer individuals would be employed should racing cease to exist. The sector is estimated to employ c.5,550 FTEs (full time equivalent staff), across individuals working in LBOs (licensed betting offices) and the Head Offices of betting operators.”

All 5,550 of these betting companies' staff have been included in the 30,350 that Deloitte has determined the breeding and racing industry supports. That number is actually down from 6,000 in the 2017 report.

I struggle to see a direct link between all of these people’s jobs and the Irish Breeding and Racing Industry. Take one of the biggest betting operator’s Head Offices in Ireland as an example - Flutter plc, which employs 3,000 people and is the parent company of brands such as Paddy Power, Betfair and Sky Bet and is based in Dublin.

Flutter is currently earning 67% of its global revenue in America, primarily from a brand called FanDuel, which doesn’t even operate in this part of the world. It would appear to be some stretch to say that there is any link between each one of the 3,000 jobs in Flutter and the horse racing industry, let alone the Irish horse racing industry.

The 30,350 full time equivalent staff that the industry supports includes a further 8,400 in secondary employment (up by 700 from the previous report). This we are told is the ‘ripple effect’ and these people have no direct involvement in the breeding or racing industry at all. These “include roles that are supported by further spending in the Irish economy. This supports jobs in the likes of the travel and accommodation sectors and the bar and restaurant trade.”

Less people employed in the core industry now than at the time of the previous report, but they are creating a bigger ripple.

This latest report differs from the previous version in that there is now a segment relating to the Social and Environmental impact of the industry, whereas in 2017 the report focussed solely on the economic impact.

Considering gambling is such a key element of the horse racing industry - which the report alludes to by including all 5,550 gambling jobs in its total and is also including the full €102 million collected in betting tax in the state as revenue generated by the Irish breeding and horse racing industry - you would think the social impact of gambling would get a mention somewhere in the report.

But in the 70 pages there is not a single mention of any harm caused to individuals by gambling and there is nothing about any support and/or initiatives being undertaken by the industry in this area.

The only time social and betting appear in the same sentence within the report is in relation to Licensed Betting Offices which we are told “provides a valuable social environment for punters.”

I suppose this simply reflects the industry-wide approach to its dirty little secret. Everyone wants the money from gambling, whether that be Racecourses through their Media Rights or HRI via Government grants, but nobody wants to take responsibility for any of the negative consequences.

One of the biggest soundbites from the report, which will no doubt become the new mantra of advocates for the industry is that for every €1 the government gives to horse racing each year it results in €35 being generated in the Irish economy.

Regardless of whether or not this ratio is entirely accurate there can be no doubt that there are a whole range of businesses that piggyback on horse racing. Sales companies, feed companies, the entire bloodstock industry and to some degree the gambling industry all benefit directly from Irish horse racing, but despite the huge profits these businesses make the sport itself remains reliant on government handouts to survive.

Surely horse racing would be on a much sounder footing if some of the profits from these businesses were put directly back into the sport that sustains them rather than constantly looking for Government funding to keep the show on the road.

Irrespective of the statistical methodology used to come up with the headline figures in the Deloitte report there are lots of fascinating facts contained within it. A few that caught my eye were -

The average racehorse in training in 2022 cost its owner a net figure of €17,685.

Punters betting with the on-course Tote and Bookies at the races in 2022 lost €11 million between them.

The average prize money for a Flat race in Japan is 10 times that of Ireland.

23% of trainers that had runners in Ireland in 2022 won zero prize money.

Lastly, I had to smile when I read this caveat towards the end of the Deloitte report stating: “no person other than HRI should place any reliance on this Report”