Thursday, 16 January 2014

This Bill has been in the offing since the Finance Bill 2011 and it is a redrafting of the original 2012 Bill. I appreciate the work undertaken by the Minister in this regard.

I come from an area which has two of the biggest race tracks in the country. There are two training establishments up the road and a stud farm across the road from my home. People regularly walking their greyhounds is a common sight. I am immersed in the horse and dog industries. I support the views of my colleague, Deputy Connaughton, with regard to gambling addiction, which I acknowledge is a serious issue and must be dealt with. I agree with his point that a portion of the revenue generated through the increase in the betting levy should be applied to help those with a gambling addiction.

In my view there needs to be a level playing field for everyone in the betting industry. Many small bookmakers are not fighting the same fight as the large bookmakers who have offshore and online betting facilities. Bookmakers who provide a service in small towns in rural areas are not playing on the same pitch as many of their competitors. This Bill attempts to level the playing field as much as possible by the use of enforcement.

I refer to the portion of the betting levy given to the horse and greyhound industries. Currently the portion is split 80% and 20% between the two sectors. The horse industry was worth €900 million in 2009 while the greyhound industry is worth €500 million but it only receives 20% of the levy. I ask the Minister to consider a fairer distribution to reflect the number of people employed and the revenue generated for the economy by both industries.

For the first time a number of race meetings will be held on Good Friday, including Lingfield Park in the UK. I can foresee that race meetings will be held on Good Friday in this country because it is a public holiday when families want to participate in activities. I ask the Minister to consider including Good Friday as a day on which bookmakers are permitted to do business.

It has been argued that the 15% levy suits the bigger bookmakers. In my view, a bookmaking firm of any size which offers an online service and is working hard to generate income is being penalised by the 15% levy.

I have always looked on this as a transaction with a client or a customer, whether in a bookmaker’s shop or online. I would much prefer to see an exchange tax but that is for another day.

I am very encouraged by racetracks which are actively pursuing customers, whether they allow them in for nothing or charge them a small fee, which I have seen in the US and in France. They do not get the same return from bookmaking. The main beneficiary of this is Tote Ireland, which should make a greater contribution to the racetracks because they actually pull in the customers to the benefit of Tote Ireland which will have more punters coming up to their stands. However, Tote Ireland is not making a significant contribution to the racetracks which are actively trying to encourage more people into the industry.

I welcome the Bill and am just throwing out a few ideas to the Minister. I would like to see a level playing field going forward but the key aspect is that we have proper enforcement so that all bookmakers pay the same.