11 June 2020
By Roger Jones
Having been closed since March amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, bookmakers in Ireland are soon set for a comeback after racing resumed without a hitch in the UK on Monday June 1st, followed swiftly by action in Ireland a week later.
During this unprecedented time for the bookmaking and sports industries, online casinos have thrived in the last three months as the natural appetite millions have for placing bets has had to be sated somehow, lotteries being played via online channels also having reported record figures during lockdown.
The biggest losers, aside from the sports themselves such as horse and racing and football however, have been those bookmakers relying on old-fashioned high street shops for their turnover but all that is about to be over soon.
Online Betting Keeping Industry Going
After being forced to reduce stakes on gaming machines, traditional betting shops had already reported a vast drop in revenue over the past year which has culminated in mass job losses, the current COVID-19 pandemic not exactly helping those matters now due to social distancing limitations.
The resumption of horse racing is a huge positive step for bookmakers but for now, betting online is set to be the focus and some of the major firms have reported very strong betting action in early June.
Even the main UK bookies are being supported by online bets only right now, missing out on what is still a large chunk of their revenue but it seems betting shops are being prepped for a return with racing having begun successfully at Newcastle in England and at Naas in Ireland.
Horse Racing, But Not as We Know It
After receiving the go-ahead to resume on both sides of the Irish Sea, horse racing is being conducted under strict social distancing rules. No owners are allowed at the track, and only one person per horse such as a trainer or assistant is allowed in the parade ring, standing on a painted marker two metres from the jockey and away from anyone else.
Spectators are not permitted as the sport continues behind closed doors for the time being, including at the upcoming Royal Ascot meeting in England and the Curragh’s Irish 2000 Guineas weekend.
The ban on non-essential people on racecourses has also meant no on-track bookies, independents having clearly suffered most since the sport shut down.
Betting Shops Given Date for Reopening
Given that most of the major bookmakers are now owned by major corporations covering both the UK and Ireland as a minimum, dates for reopening shops have been confusing people in some cases.
GVC, the owner of Ladbrokes Coral, has said it will open 80% of its estate and Flutter Entertainment which owns popular Irish firm Paddy Power will open its shops in England on June 15th in line with UK government relaxation of lockdown, with 150 branches in Ireland to follow.
Officially, betting shops in Ireland are set to reopen on June 29th which was decided after high-level meetings between major bookmakers and independent operators, although some are forecasting that business will be down by around 50% as some punters take the personal decision not to interact so closely with other customers.
The forecast return of high street betting shops in Ireland was introduced after at first believing that opening during phase 2 of Ireland’s lockdown-lifting roadmap on June 8th was appropriate, but ultimately that has been pushed back.
After negotiations including the Irish Bookmakers Association, the decision has now been made to play safe and reopen during phase 3 of the plan on June 29th although for those without online accounts, that time cannot come quick enough.