TIME is running out for Irish racing in its campaign to have the Gambling Regulation Bill amended so that Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing can continue to be broadcast into Irish homes.

Minister for State James Browne brought the Bill back before the Dáil this week and had numerous minor amendments voted through while other amendments from opposition parties were defeated.

From racing’s point of view, the most contentious part of the Bill concerns the ban on gambling advertising during daylight hours on radio and television. Both Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing incorporate betting adverts throughout their broadcasts and therefore fall foul of the proposed legislation.

Both channels say it would not be economically viable for them to produce and distribute a ‘cleansed’ version for their relatively small Irish audiences.

Horse Racing Ireland and others have lobbied the Minister to make an exemption for the racing channels. They point out that Racing TV is a subscription channel and it would be highly damaging to the racing industry if either of the two specialist channels were blocked in Ireland.

The Minister has so far been unyielding, repeating the line that the Bill does not ban the showing of racing, only the broadcasting of betting advertising between 5.30am and 9pm.

Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill, one of racing’s strongest voices in the Dáil, told The Irish Field yesterday that there is a very real chance of the racing channels being taken off the air for Irish viewers.

“I would be concerned,” he said. “I have lobbied Minister Browne on a good few occasions about this but he was not for making any further changes to the Bill. The legislation is very near the final stages now and could be signed into law within months.”

There remains a possibility that an amendment to exempt the racing channels from the Bill could be introduced by the Cabinet when the legislation reaches the Seanad.

Taoiseach support

Answering questions in the Dáil on Wednesday, Taoiseach Simon Harris said: “I am very proud of the gambling legislation that the Government is bringing forward. Gambling has had a significantly corrosive impact on many families and communities that are impacted by it.

“I also do not want the Bill to have unintended consequences, whether for charities or areas like the horse racing industry. I would point out that I imagine there will be further amendments to come as this Bill moves into the other House.”

However, on the same day Minister Browne gave no hint that he was planning a u-turn in the name of racing.

After being implored by independent TD Mattie McGrath and Sinn Féin TDs Pearse Doherty and Sean Crowe to amend the bill to allow charities and sports clubs to continue to advertise fundraising ‘lotto’-style games which are considered gambling, the Minister said: “What we are talking about now, again, is gambling advertising, not stopping charities from raising funds, but advertising gambling between the hours of 5.30am and 9pm.

“The genesis of this is the unanimous recommendation of the Justice Committee, including the Sinn Féin deputies. Sinn Féin supported this.

“In fact they said they backed the report but now they come in here and say they support regulation of gambling but want exemptions for the charity sector, the sporting sector, bingo, schools and radio.

“There were other letters about the horse racing industry.

“In other words, Sinn Féin wants a regulation, but wants to exempt everyone. It does not want to regulate gambling. It wants to regulate the commercial gambling industry. That is different from what we are doing. We treat this as a public health crisis.”