RACING TV has refuted The Irish Field's report that the channel has agreed a deal with its betting partners on how to manage the consequences of the Gambling Regulation Bill.

The Bill, which has passed through the Dáil and is now moving through the Seanad before being signed into law, proposes a ban on gambling advertising during daylight hours. Both Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing have said it would not be viable for them to produce a separate ‘no betting ads’ broadcast for its relatively small Irish audience.

This weekend The Irish Field reported that it had learned that both racing channels had given reassurances to their betting partners that the channels will not be taken off the air in Ireland even if the ban on explicit gambling advertising is introduced.

James Browne, the Minister for State at the Department of Justice, recently stated that he was introducing an amendment to the bill which would allow “incidental” visibility of betting company names and logos during daytime broadcasts.

“If an analyst on a race is identified as being an employee of a licensee, between 5.30am and 9pm, it will not be a contravention of the Bill,” the Minister said.

As the legislation will allow betting company representatives to be interviewed on air at all times, The Irish Field understands that this concession will form the basis of a new commercial arrangement to effectively replace the betting advertisements or 'stings'.

However, on Saturday afternoon Racing TV issued a statement to say that no deal has been reached on this issue.

"Having bookmakers’ contributions on the channel as a replacement for ads or stings is completely against the regulator OFCOM‘s advertising regulations," the statement said. "We can categorically say that no deals have been reached with bookmaker partners on this.

"As we stressed [on Friday] our position has not changed. The drafting of the Bill, as it stands, makes it unviable for Racing TV to continue broadcasting in Ireland."

On Friday, Martin Stevenson, CEO of RMG, parent company of Racing TV, indicated that all parties were still focused on getting the desired amendments made to the legislation before it became law.

“As expected, and despite requests from many sectors, including racing, there were no exemptions for specialist subscription channels, such as Racing TV, in the latest round of amendments when the Bill passed through the Dail,” Stevenson said. “However, we did read the Minister’s recent comments that further amendments will be considered in the Seanad. We’ve also read with interest that racing isn’t the only sport seeking amendments in this area, as we’ve seen with comments from other sporting associations, such as the GAA.

“We can only reinforce our position at this stage and that we are fully supportive of the objectives of the Gambling Regulation Bill in protecting those at risk of gambling harm. However, the drafting of the Bill, as it stands, means there would be substantial economic and operational challenges for broadcasters caused by the loss of gambling advertising. It would therefore make it unviable for Racing TV to continue broadcasting in Ireland.

“The gambling advertising ban would require us to invest in a separate channel for Ireland. This is prohibitively expensive for a small, independent racecourse-owned broadcaster, like Racing TV.

“The broadcasting of horse racing is a vital component to the health of the racing industry. Racing TV enables the sport to reach fans and attract new business and investment, as well as offering participants the opportunity to watch runners if they can’t be there in person. Over the years, we have seen interest and participation in sports decline when they lose TV coverage, with advertisers and sponsors naturally looking elsewhere for exposure and spend.

Damage to Irish racing

“Irish racing is a unique national asset and supports 30,350 jobs and delivers €2.46bn to the Irish economy, according to a Deloitte report, commissioned by Horse Racing Ireland. The loss of TV exposure in Ireland would damage the successful Irish racing industry, which holds significant cultural heritage and does so much for communities, jobs and the country.

“You have to be over 18 years old to subscribe to Racing TV and therefore should hopefully satisfy, in our view, many of the ‘opt in’ safeguards seen elsewhere in the Bill. The condition that a subscriber has to actively consent to view Racing TV – and the gambling adverts that accompany the output – is a direct parallel and is consistent with the digital requirements in the Bill that require positive opt-in to see bookmaker advertising. This does not create any greater risk of exposure to bookmaker advertising than intended in the Bill, noting that digital audiences are far greater than TV audiences. In addition, both the age of the channel’s viewers, and indeed horseracing bettors, is of an older demographic, who are generally not interested in games of chance, such as casino games.

“Regulatory change, such as this, can provoke a strong level of feeling amongst horseracing fans, as evidenced in the UK with 100,000 people petitioning against affordability checks, resulting in a debate in Westminster Hall. We do strongly urge the Government to listen to the racing industry and consider an exemption in the Seanad.”

Asked if Irish racing could go off-air because of the proposed legislation, HRI chief executive Suzanne Eade told Tipp Mid-West Radio last week: “We in HRI could not let that happen. That’s why we are pursuing different options, we continue to engage with the relevant Departments and we hope to get some changes.”

Eade pointed to the fact that Racing TV was a subscription channel and that the vast majority of viewers were over 18 and had “opted in” to view racing and betting content. “We believe there are more harmful platforms in existence,” she said.

Last year Horse Racing Ireland and the Association of Irish Racecourses signed a reported €47 million five-year media rights deal with Racing TV’s parent company RMG, giving that channel exclusivity on direct-to-home, betting shop and streaming services for live Irish racing pictures.

Exemption for sports clubs

Last week Minister Browne, who is the driving force behind the Bill, agreed to an amendment which will grant an exemption to sports clubs and charities advertising lotto-style fundraising activities.

However, the Minister continued to reject calls for the exemption to extend to racing channels.

In theory an amendment to exempt the racing channels from the proposed ban on gambling advertising could be introduced when the Bill is before the Seanad but it would have to be passed by the Dáil as well. This would probably require intervention by the Taoiseach or Cabinet but the fact that it has not happened by now suggests the political will is not there to make the change.

Public sentiment around gambling has turned increasingly negative in recent years and, with elections looming, politicians may well be reluctant to be seen to be acting in the interests of large betting companies.

British racing is dealing with similar problems in the form of affordability checks for punters. From August 30th this year bookmakers must carry out checks as soon as a customer has a net deposit of £500 in a single month. The threshold figure drops to £150 per month from next February but the checks will be “frictionless”, using only publicly available information rather than asking the customer for bank statements or pay slips.

Minister Browne has said he has no plans to introduce affordability checks here.