Irish horse racing chief favours increase in betting tax

The industry got back on track in 2016, but is still being funded by Government subsidies...

Irish horse racing chief favours increase in betting tax

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Figures published by Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) show positive outcomes in most sectors of the industry last year.

For instance, the number of active owners rose by 1.5% to nearly 3,700 and the numbers of horses in training was 4% higher at 8,500.

They were the first such increases since 2008.

Attendances at race meetings rose modestly though principally at the major festivals and larger courses, while prize money also rose, though commercial sponsorship still represents less than 10% of the €57m total, with HRI stumping up the balance

On the key commercial side, the revenues generated at public auction bloodstock sales was 8% higher at €164m.

The only negative headline figure was the continuing significant fall in on-course betting both with bookmakers and the tote, as online and off-course competition continues to attract punters’ custom.

All this comes at a price – namely the Exchequer support for HRI – which rose by about 8% in the last budget to €64m.

Speaking on Breakfast Business earlier, however, HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh said he believes this effective subsidy can be fully funded by levies on the bookmaking sector:

"One of the most interesting stats in the figures last year was the growth in off-course betting tax revenues to the Government, which grew from €31m in 2015 to €51m last year, simply because new legislation was brought in to tax offshore betting; internet betting that was rooted offshore. That has had a causative impact. Ireland has the lowest rate of betting tax in the world... There's increasing scope for [the subsidy] to be removed."

Despite the amount of bets placed at the track being down, Kavanagh dismissed the suggestion that any of the 26 courses around the country would close, alluding to Ireland's historic affinity for the sport. 

"I don't think so. My previous chairman used to say it was easier to close a hospital in Ireland than close a racecourse. I think the small racecourses are the backbone of the industry, they offer a variety of products."