The Irish racing industry will feel the pinch in 2020 after the government’s latest budget failed to provide any extra funding for the sport. Publishing his financial plan for the coming year on October 8th, finance minister Paschal Donohue said the Irish Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund would remain unchanged.
For those in the industry, that means €80 million has been earmarked for 2020. Of that figure, €67.2 million will go to Horse Racing Ireland (HRI). Commenting on the budget, HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh said he was prepared to explore additional funding options, including Brexit assistance funds. However, in the interim, the forecast suggests there will be limited potential for growth.
“It’s a standstill situation. We’ll have to take this away and look at the implications for our own budget. It will make the budget process trickier and tighter,” Kavanagh said in a press statement.
Although no additional money will be forthcoming, the industry did receive a slight reprieve. As per the guidelines, small-time bookers will receive some tax relief. Although the new 2% wagering tax will still apply, small bookmakers will get a €50,000 allowance. By not taxing the first €50,000 in annual turnover, the government hopes to maintain an active network of local odds makers as well as larger operators.
Indeed, perhaps the biggest boost to Irish racing in recent years has been the influx of online betting brands to Ireland. Part of a £14.5 billion industry in the UK, online sports betting has opened up racing to millions of bettors across Ireland in recent years. At a site like Unibet, users not only have access to odds and promos for a variety of events, but statistical insights. With race results, performance data and tips on tap, internet sportsbooks have made it easier to not only bet on racing but engage with the sport on a deeper level.
Between the advent of online betting and Ireland’s longstanding relationship with racing, the industry has grown to become a €1.8 billion entity. However, the latest budget won’t do much to improve that figure. Even with interest at an all-time high, the government’s unwillingness to provide more funding could stifle planned projects. The impact of stagnation will not only affect the sport but the Irish economy. As well as selling €200 million worth of bloodstock overseas, the sector employees almost 29,000 people.
Beyond that, more than 1.3 million people attend 356 race events year at Ireland’s 26 courses. Those are significant numbers and a testament to the status of Irish racing not only locally but internationally. Therefore, to have no extra funding for 2020 is a blow. However, with a solid infrastructure and a strong reputation to fall back on, it’s by no means the end for those in the industry. Just as running conditions fluctuate, so too can business conditions. Therefore, even though Donohue’s decision is disappointing, the sport isn’t destined for the knacker’s yard just yet.