There was a heartfelt collective sigh of relief recently from all those involved in the Irish bloodstock industry that, after five consecutive cuts to funding, the reduction to the budget of Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) will be no more than €800,000 in 2012. This shortfall in funding will be offset by increased media income in 2012. HRI, as the governing body for horse racing and breeding, will now have a total budget of approximately €45m in 2012 down from an all time high of €61m in 2008. During the HRI awards at Leopardstown before Christmas Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, announced the second quarter of 2012 will see the introduction of the much heralded Betting (Amendment) Bill to bring all forms of betting into the tax net. There is still some scepticism as to whether this legislation will meet its desired objective. The Irish National Bookmakers Association has already highlighted what they feel is a possible loophole in the Government’s plans to tax betting exchanges in the legislation. Costello, M. (2011) ‘Bookies warn of loophole in tax plan’ The Irish Field, 10th December, pA3. However the fact that the Government has accepted the principle of the bloodstock industry being funded via a return from all forms of betting is a welcome development.
The acceptance of this principle has been a long time coming! HRI has long maintained that the horse racing and breeding industry could and should be fully financed from betting duty without any Exchequer subvention, a principle, they argue, which applies in every major racing nation. Indeed, the objective of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, which was established with the enactment of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001 was to serve as the main vehicle to fund the two industries. (Delaney and Fahey, 2006).
The present system of state funding for horse racing was originally interpreted as a state-backed means to secure a return from off-course betting, since it was initially intended to be financed by means of an excise duty on off-course betting and for a time was in fact fully financed from that source. However, the excise on betting has been reduced over recent years, to the point where it no longer is sufficient to fund state financial support for the racing industry and has to be supplemented by general exchequer funding. (Delaney and Fahey, 2006, p10).
This is a situation which has rested uneasily on many within the industry, particularly in recent years of economic hardship. That is not to say that the industry should not receive state support given its important role in the provision of both employment and revenue.
Minister Coveney recently referred to the “enormous economic benefit of the thoroughbred industry to this country, providing 16,000 jobs, almost €1bn in economic output with exports worth some €147m to 36 countries in 2010″.
Add to this the fact that this industry/sport is one in which Ireland is genuinely a world leader and the case becomes even more convincing. We have some of the best trainers and jockeys in the world; John Oxx, Dermot weld, Aidan O Brien, Willie Mullins, Noel Meade, Arthur Moore, Johny Murtagh, Pat Smullen, Ruby Walsh, Paul Carberry, Nina Carberry, Barry Geraghty to name but a few and are known as the nursery of Europe as regards the production (now and in the past) of legendary horses; Arkle, Dawn Run, Istabraq, Best Mate, New Approach, Sea The Stars…
Minister Coveney, in paying tribute to the outstanding Irish successes in 2011 with Irish bred horses, Irish trainers, owners and jockeys coming away with the spoils in Ireland, Britain, France and America, remarked “this country is a true leader in the equine world and shows the value of the pursuit of excellence. As a country, it is fitting that we should take pride in our success and encouragement from our achievements. The great success enjoyed in 2011 created a ripple effect throughout the entire industry, enhancing its reputation and benefiting all those involved in the industry either directly or indirectly”.
Because of these attributes it is imperative that the proposed Betting (Amendment) Bill be introduced without delay and made to work. This must be with input from all elements of the industry including the Bookmakers and online operators to ensure that all stakeholders within the betting sector are treated equitably under the legislation. It is not appropriate that this industry, which has contributed consistently in terms of employment, revenue generated and sporting success at the highest level, should compete each year for scarce exchequer funding which is needed for vital front line services , when it could and should be fully financed from betting duty.