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Concerns for future viability of tracks

The Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) represents all twenty-six racecourses in Ireland, and this week are highlighting their full support of their northern member tracks, Downpatrick and Down Royal, in relation to the proposed amendments to gambling legislation in Northern Ireland.

A draft code of practice has been proposed under Clause 15 of the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill. The Department of Communities in Northern Ireland is carrying out a consultation process into the draft Gambling Codes of Practice.

Both Downpatrick Racecourse and Down Royal Racecourse representatives have already written to the Department of Communities directly, expressing their collective concerns, stating that the suggested amendments to legislation have the potential to have a significantly impact the viability of horseracing in Northern Ireland.

Key areas of the proposed code of practice that relate to racecourses specifically include ‘Gambling Securities and Credit’, ‘Protection of Children and Young People’ and ‘Customer Care Problem Gambling and Spending’.

In support of northern racecourses, Conor O’Neill, Chairman of AIR has made a submission to the Department of Communities, Social Policy Unit, echoing the concerns of Downpatrick and Down Royal racecourses in relation to the draft Code of Practice under review.

In his submission on behalf of the Association, Mr. O’Neill offered his full and unequivocal support of its members’ opposition to the draft stating that AIR shared “concerns that the adoption of the draft Codes of Practice would have a drastic effect on the income that they currently receive from bookmakers which, in turn, comprises such a significant share of their funding that it could call into question their continued existence.”

Completely impractical 

Mr. O’Neill commented “Although the principles set out in this draft are positive in theory, much of what is being proposed for implementation at our member’s racecourses is completely impractical.

“For example, the proposed ‘affordability checks’ set out in this draft would require a full review of a client’s; personal credit score, income, the number of dependants and any loan commitments they have.

“This proposal suggests this review would be triggered and full implementation required for any punter placing a bet in excess of £100. Can you imagine the implications of such a proposal? It’s simply not practical and that is just one example of the proposed Codes of Practice our members have raised firm opposition to.”

Unique position 

Emma Meehan, CEO of Down Royal Racecourse added “Horse racing is in a unique sporting position, in that it and betting are interdependent with most of our revenue streams linked to betting.

“These include the Horse Racing Fund, administered by DAERA, income from media rights deals between racecourses, as well as betting operators and sponsorship deals.

“Whilst we agree the act needs modernising and developing to ensure it is fit for the modern age in a sector that has been transformed through the rise of mobile and online gaming, we are gravely concerned over the potential impact this proposed legislation will have upon the future of horse racing within Northern Ireland; a sport that is still recovering from the financial implications of Covid-19.”

Socially responsible 

She continued “Horse racing is an increasingly popular, socially responsible and culturally accepted form of betting activity that provides enjoyment to millions of people, supports jobs and contributes significantly to rural economies and communities. This impact would not be what it is today without the relationship between racing and betting, which is secured through a sustainable return from betting activity.”

All key stakeholders are in agreement that the legislation which is thirty-five years old is in need of updating and that the proposals put forward are too extreme and not practical with a view to implementation. They needed further debate and consideration. The consultation period ended on Friday, 4th of March and we will keep you up to date on any further developments in this regard, as they happen.

By Leo Powell

Irish Field 

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