LEADING industry figures have expressed major concerns over the potential for dedicated racing channels to be removed from Irish screens due to the impending Gambling Regulation Bill, with eight-time champion trainer Noel Meade calling the legislation “an absolute disaster for Irish racing”.

In its current format, the Gambling Regulation Bill means a ban on the broadcasting of gambling advertisements or promotion during daylight hours. That is expected to force both Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing off the air in Ireland.

As a knock-on effect, the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners fears owners will be lost over the issue.

The Irish Field understands that Horse Racing Ireland is scheduled to meet with Minister of State for Law Reform James Browne early next month over the issue, and Meade is among those who have appealed for an amendment before the Bill reaches the final report stage.

“I certainly am very concerned by this whole situation,” Meade told The Irish Field.

“If this came to fruition, it would be an absolute disaster for Irish racing. It really would. The damage this would do to the industry is unthinkable. I honestly cannot believe that a government would allow this to happen. I know many people are up in arms about this.

“I’ve spoken to Ryan McElligott [chief executive of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association] and I believe that he and the group have been working on this behind the scenes.

“It almost makes me mad when I think about how every time we turn on the radio and television, we’re presented with advertisements for the Lotto. Is that not another form of gambling?”

O’Leary concern

Gigginstown House Stud racing manager Eddie O’Leary believes the loss in exposure for Irish racing’s participants would be highly damaging to the sector.

“Make no mistake, if the bill is implemented in its current format then we are facing a massive step in the wrong direction for Irish racing,” said O’Leary.

“It’s absolutely vital that we get this issue sorted. As Peter Molony mentioned earlier in the week, show jumpers used to be superstars when we were growing up but now it’s no longer on television and most young people have no awareness of who they are. It’s so important that an amendment is made.

“I really want to emphasise that Ireland is a world-leader at one thing - producing and training racehorses. It’s an industry we need to be extremely proud of. How many other industries in this country can we claim to be genuine world leaders in?

“If we don’t have televised pictures of the sport, we cannot promote our world-class product. We desperately need a solution to be found for everyone’s sake.”

‘Unintended consequence’

Independent TD for Tipperary Mattie McGrath says he has heard concerns regarding the issue from many of his constituents with a passion for racing.

“Where I’m based in Co Tipperary is in the heart of a number of horseracing operations and many people in the industry have expressed hugely to me the pressure that they are under,” said McGrath.

“They are very fearful about this. I’m hoping that an amendment can be allowed before the final report stage at the Dail but you never know. To use a racing phrase, there are a few fences still to go and hopefully it will fall at the final hurdle for everybody’s sake. This Bill cannot go through in its present format.

“What is happening here is an unintended consequence and you will often have that in legislation, but we need Minister Browne to engage with his own supporters in Wexford on this because the current legislation will be devastating. The stakeholders need to be listened to.”

Owners’ plea

The Association of Irish Racehorse Owners (AIRO) has written to government officials with its fears of a “detrimental effect” on the retention of owners if dedicated racing channels are removed.

“We are pleading with them to work towards creating the sort of exemptions that exist in other racing jurisdictions to ensure it is attractive for TV channels to continue to broadcast Irish racing,” said AIRO manager Regina Byrne.

“Our owners are deeply concerned about the proposed Gambling Bill. While we are welcoming of a Gambling Bill which protects the vulnerable in our society, we are really worried about the unintended consequences it could have on the Irish racing and breeding industry.

“If racing were to disappear from our screens it would have a detrimental effect on the retention of owners, whose investment underpins the success of an industry in which we are global leaders. It would also have an adverse effect on the level of overseas owners and direct foreign investment into our country who rely exclusively on TV coverage to watch their investment run.”