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Sports betting in Ireland

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Horseracing in Ireland was organised by the Irish Horseracing Authority until 2002. The Irish Horseracing Authority was established in December 1994 under the Irish Horseracing Act. The Irish National Bookmakers’ Association is a trade association representing independent bookmakers who form its membership. Members of this Association offer betting services on any event or outcome.

Most of the members of this Association are On-Course Bookmakers, betting at horse racing meetings, point-to-point meetings, greyhound racing meetings and greyhound coursing meetings. All these bookmakers are licensed by the State but also must have a permit from the relevant body.

In respect of horseracing and point-to-point meetings, bookmakers have to be registered with Horse Racing Ireland. This semi-state body keeps records of the number of bookmakers operating in this area and their business turnover. It also runs the Totalisator (or Pari-Mutuel), which operates in competition with the racecourse bookmakers.

Greyhound racing is controlled by the Irish Greyhound Board, who similarly license bookmakers and collect turnover information from them at all greyhound racetracks. The current system of greyhound racing in Ireland dates back to 1958 when the Irish Greyhound Board (Bord nag Con) was established under the Greyhound Industry Act. Today there are a total of seventeen tracks in Ireland which are licensed by the Board, eight of which they fully own and control. The remainder are owned and operated by private enterprise. There are also a further three privately-owned stadia in Northern Ireland. The Board operates Tote facilities at all greyhound tracks and applies an on course levy on all bookmaker’s greyhound betting. The tote is the only source of income which keeps this Greyhound Industry to the forefront of the leisure and sporting Industry, not only in Ireland but around the world.

The Irish Greyhound Board contribute more to charitable causes then any other sporting organisation in the country.

Betting services are not subject to VAT; bookmakers do not have to register and cannot claim VAT paid. The tax on bets struck where the event takes place is subject to zero tax. However, bets on “away events” (events taking place at another venue) are subject to a tax of 2% of turnover, the proceeds being paid to Horse Racing Ireland or the Irish Greyhound Board, depending on the nature of betting.

The annual license fee paid to the State is €250. The annual Standing Charge paid to Horse Racing Ireland is €500, plus 0.5% of the betting turnover.

Bookmakers pay a pitch fee to individual racecourses or greyhound tracks. This is based on the price charged to the general public for admission and is not expected to rise significantly in the near future.

Prior to the introduction of 1999 tax reductions (on course – from 5% to zero on 26 July and off course – from 10% to 5% on 1 July), the annual growth in bookmaker betting had averaged 5%. However, in the year that followed the tax reductions, the handle increased by 32%.

The abolition of General Betting Duty in the UK, which became effective during 2001, placed tremendous pressure upon the Irish betting industry. Consequently during November 2002 the Irish Government reacted by announcing that the Irish rate of off-course duty was to be reduced further to 2% as of 1 May 2002.

Following the agreement of Irish bookmakers and the British Horseracing Board (BHB) over the media rights to UK horseracing, Irish off-course bookmakers introduced a charge of 3%. The charge the BHB has imposed is 10% of bookmakers’ gross profits (GGRs) on UK racing. The Irish betting system, which is based on the same structure as the UK, consists of the coexistence of bookmakers offering fixed odds betting both on and off course, and Tote offering a pool betting service both on course and via its telephone service. The Tote introduced a new brand identity, Tote Ireland, during 2001. It started by modernising its facilities and introduced credit card betting.

Tote Ireland is a subsidiary of Horserace Ireland and is licensed to operate Tote services at racecourses under the Totalisator Act 1929. A cash and credit service is provided at all 25 racecourses in Ireland and it also operates a full off-course telephone service. At present the Tote’s take-out rates are 20% for win and place bets and 22% for exotics, with the average being just under 22%. During 2003 it was decided to run a pilot programme whereby the take-out rate for win bets on small fields, initially ten runners or less, was reduced to 10%.

In terms of fixed odds betting, there were 909 off-course shops operating in Ireland during 2002. The market leaders were Paddy Power with 141, Ladbrokes with 110, Boyles with 65 and Stanley Leisure at 53.

During 2002 the combined handle for betting shops was €1.568 billion. The number of shops was approximately 850 in 2004. During 2003 Irish off course betting was €1.921 billion. The industry reports that there was no discernible change during the first couple of months of introduction of the smoking ban. No AWPs are permitted in Irish betting shops and they are very unlikely to be allowed in the future.

Ireland’s bookmakers are allowed to operate Internet-based services under the terms of their bookmaking licenses.

The voluntary body “The Racing Club of Ireland” (RCI) ceased operating in March 2003 (after 21 years) when its objectives as a representative body for race goers and punters in this country were largely achieved. During its time, several submissions were made to Government on the subjects of betting tax. RCI, with others, opposed the introduction of Casino gaming. Neither RCI nor Friends of Horse Racing ever received any funds derived out of revenues. However, these organisations have taken the position that the existing legal and regulatory restrictions are effective in ensuring that revenues generated by gambling activities in Ireland are used to provide appropriate funding for local charitable, cultural and sporting associations. They also take the position that if the Irish national market for gambling services were opened to operators licensed in other EU Member States, the overall level of funding for local charitable, cultural and sporting associations would be drastically reduced.

Bingo

Since a Supreme Court judgement in 1965, the bingo market in Ireland has been considered to be a form of lottery. Therefore, since 1965, each session of bingo has been treated as one lottery. TellyBingo tickets are purchased via the National Lottery agent network and the Bingo game is played for the results on National TV each Tuesday and Friday morning. The annual sales of TellyBingo in 2003 were €19.2million.

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