Many of us are old enough to remember when sports gambling in Ireland was almost entirely restricted to horse racing and to a lesser extent greyhound racing. Those of us who were not able to go to the tracks would probably have placed our bets at a high street betting shop or by phone if we had an account, and it has to be said that the betting shops were generally rather drab places in those days. To be fair that was not necessarily the fault of the betting shop owners because they were not allowed by law to promote themselves with window displays or advertising. Gambling of any description was still actively discouraged even though horse racing and greyhound racing were almost entirely dependent on gambling for their very existence. Nowadays of course our betting shops are far more welcoming places, but things have moved on and where once the betting shops only faced competition from the on-track bookies they now have online sports gambling to contend with. The internet has undoubtedly changed sports gambling completely, and all the major bookmakers now do much of their business through their online sports gambling sites. Betting shops still have a part to play but they appear to need income from other areas such as the controversial fixed odds gambling terminals to survive. Perhaps it’s time they learnt from the experience of the greyhound racing industry.
Greyhound racing was once second only to horse racing as far as sports gambling was concerned in Ireland, but lack of investment in the infrastructure led to a gradual fall in attendances and it was unable to compete with the increasingly wide choice of leisure activities we had. Over the last few years however the greyhound tracks have been updated, and now boast superb hospitality facilities which have attracted a new audience for greyhound racing in Ireland. An evening watching greyhound racing is now an extremely enjoyable experience and is increasingly popular amongst sports gambling fans.
Although greyhound racing is undoubtedly becoming increasingly popular, it has a long way to go before challenging the popularity of horse racing. In spite of the convenience and scope of online sports gambling, we still love going to the races, and horse race meetings such as Cheltenham would be very different without the annual invasion of the Irish horse racing fans. Horse racing is also big business in Ireland, with many successful trainers and breeding stables contributing to our economy.
One of the biggest effects of the introduction of online sports gambling has been the range of sports we can now follow and enjoy gambling on. We can now access sporting events taking place all over the world and at any time of year. The competition for our attention is huge and now includes sports such as American football, baseball and even ice hockey. In spite of this opportunity to follow sports from other parts of the world however, it is gambling on football which is the biggest attraction for many relatively new sports gambling fans. Many sports are particularly popular in certain parts of the world, but football is undoubtedly the biggest and most popular sport of all both in terms of worldwide participation and in terms of attendance at matches. Football is now probably the biggest sports gambling attraction in Ireland, and almost every betting shop and bookmakers’ advertisement will feature odds on a big football match. Unlike many other sports gambling enthusiasts, football gambling fans will regularly bet on matches outside the country, with the English Premier league and both the Spanish and Italian leagues particularly popular.
Much of the popularity of football gambling across the world is of course due to increasingly widespread television coverage. The influence of television on our sports gambling habits is interesting. Many years ago a television programme called Pot Black came to our screens, and the game of snooker received a massive boost as a result. This was in spite of the fact that most of us did not have colour television. We can still see what happens to our sports gambling activities when a particular sport is splashed across our television screens. During Wimbledon for instance gambling on tennis becomes high on our list of attractions. Golf is another sport that receives a boost during major tournaments such as the Irish Open or the Masters. Another sport which undoubtedly experiences a leap in popularity as a result of television coverage is rugby. Rugby is a popular sport in Ireland but gambling on rugby increases dramatically during the annual Six Nations tournament because every match is televised. Talking of rugby and indeed golf over recent years brings us to another important influence on our sports gambling interests, and that is national success. There is no doubt that when we have Irish winners our interest in that particular sport increases. Rugby and golf are both sports where Irish players have seen considerable success over recent years, and gambling on those sports has increased as a result.
We have already commented on the fact that online sports gambling has enabled us to follow sports which are usually played in other parts of the world, such as American football, basketball and ice hockey, but we should not forget the GAA sports which are mostly the preserve of this country. As you would expect gambling on the GAA sports is far more popular in Ireland than anywhere else in the world, although there are many Irish sports fans spread across the globe who now have access to gambling on GAA sports as a result of the internet and online sports gambling.
Clearly we have not mentioned every sport which has benefitted from the introduction of online sports gambling, but we have picked out the most obvious examples. We have also commented on the influence of television coverage on which sports attract our attention in terms of sports gambling, but there is one other factor which effects our gambling choices. In-play gambling is relatively new, but is already having an effect on our sports gambling activities.