Bookmakers ‘must accept racing bets’

Bookmakers should not be allowed to refuse bets on Irish horse races, says Brian Kavanagh, the chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland.

Kavanagh wants bookmakers to be compelled to lay a minimum-liability bet and has called for a radical overhaul of industry regulation.

His comments, in an interview with The Times, come in the same week that At The Races dedicated its Sunday Forum show to a discussion on betting, in particular punters’ inability to get bets on as bookmakers purge what they consider to be non-profitable or potentially non-profitable accounts.

Bookmakers have been criticised for encouraging problem gamblers while simultaneously preventing others from betting altogether. Last week in Britain, it was announced that the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals will be cut after the government there admitted that existing limits on the machines, which allow gamblers to bet up to £300 a minute, are inappropriate.

Kavanagh said: “I think there is a need for an independent Gambling Commission to regulate all forms of gambling and gaming in Ireland. The gambling market alone is worth €5.1 billion per annum without even taking into account online and land-based casino type games.

“Undoubtedly it would be fairer to all. On-course bookmakers are currently licensed and regulated by Horse Racing Ireland. Off-course and online bookmakers are licensed and regulated by the state through the Department of Justice and there are many other forms of gambling and gaming operating in Ireland which are neither licensed nor regulated.”

In 2014, New South Wales imposed regulations on bookmakers which obliged them to lay bets to lose at least AUS$1,000 at country tracks in Australia. Many punters want something similar in Ireland, including Kavanagh. Asked would he favour such an imposition, he said: “Yes, but only as part of an overhaul of the entire regulation of gambling. It would be unfair to single out on-course bookmakers.”

Online gambling giant Bet365 announced recently that its revenue has increased to £2.15 billion over the past 12 months. Almost two-thirds of its revenue is generated from “in-play” markets and racing’s share of turnover is generally in decline as sports betting grows in popularity.

Bet365 sponsors Stoke City Football Club, part of a swing towards sports teams earning money from bookmakers. England’s top tier was ten years old before Fulham became the first club to feature a betting company on their shirt by linking up with Betfair in 2002.

In the summer of 2016, a group representing punters has warned the risk-averse practices of major bookmakers were undermining public interest in horse racing. The Horserace Bettors Forum claimed that as many as 20,000 accounts of British-based punters alone have been closed in the previous six months, with perhaps twice as many restricted.