We are continually reading about the effects of internet shopping on our high streets, but online gambling has also become ever more popular and has of course also changed how we use the high street betting shops. Along with many other high street outlets our betting shops are experiencing ever reducing footfall and in many cases they are reported to be struggling to remain viable in the face of competition from online gambling. Some leading bookmakers claim that it is only the much maligned Fixed Odds Terminals offering instant access to gambling games such as roulette that are supporting their betting shop estates, and without them many shops would have to close. Whether that claim is true or not there is no doubt that online gambling is here to stay and will continue to grow in popularity. It is of course primarily online sports gambling which has effected the viability of our betting shops, yet strangely the increasing popularity of online casino gambling does not appear to have had the same effect on the real casinos and even the bingo clubs do not seem to have suffered significantly from the rise in gambling on online bingo sites. The most likely reason for this is that playing gambling games in a casino or a bingo club is a totally different experience compared to playing those games on your own at an online casino gambling site. The difference in atmosphere is clearly much the same as the difference between gambling on horse racing at the track compared to gambling online or even at a betting shop, which is probably why attendances at horse race meetings or greyhound race tracks do not seem to have been adversely affected by the increasing popularity of online sports gambling. Given a choice of course most horse race gambling fans would probably prefer to do their gambling at the track, but online sports gambling has provided us with a much greater choice of sports gambling options than were ever available through our betting shops, and that is why the online sports gambling sites are becoming increasingly popular. For many years, particularly in Ireland gambling on horse racing was the biggest sports gambling activity by far, followed by grey hound racing and of course since the spread of satellite television coverage of football, gambling on the English Premier League has also been strong. When the big bookmakers began to invest in their online sports gambling sites, the most noticeable difference was that gambling on other sports suddenly became much easier and therefore began to attract fans of those other sports to the idea of online gambling. Not only were a huge variety of other sports suddenly accessible on the online sports gambling sites, but we could also gamble on sports and sporting events from all over the world so that football fans for instance were no longer restricted to only being able to gamble on football during the home season. Most professional sports are now played almost all year round and are therefore also accessible to online sports gambling fans throughout the year.
Prior to the introduction of online sports gambling sports such as tennis and golf probably only attracted the attention of sports gambling enthusiasts during the major tournaments such as Wimbledon and the Irish and British Open golf tournaments. The same was probably also true of gambling on rugby union which was only really popular during the Six Nations or perhaps a British and Irish Lions tour. Nowadays all three of these popular sports attract sports gambling fans throughout our seasons and also that of the southern hemisphere countries. The popularity of gambling on a particular sport is also affected by how successful we are as a country in that sport or whether we have big name stars competing successfully in a particular sport. Our national rugby team and our provincial sides for example are currently having an extremely successful period, so gambling on rugby has also increased in popularity. When Rory McIroy was world number one golf also became a big gambling sport, attracting a lot of new fans because of his success. We have even seen a surge in interest in gambling on cricket, which has always been a minor sport in Ireland but is now more popular since the Irish team have begun to prosper.
There is no doubt that another important factor in sports gambling activity is whether the sport is actively promoted on television, the most striking example of this being the enormous interest in snooker gambling which was generated by the blanket television coverage we saw some years ago. Many other sports have also benefitted from increased television coverage now that satellite television has become so involved in sport. This brings us to another effect of the introduction of online sports gambling on our gambling activities, which is the new accessibility of sports from different countries. American football for instance is becoming increasingly popular here in Ireland, as is basketball, and both of these American favourites are now easily accessible to online sports gambling fans. The worldwide coverage of the internet also means that the large number of Irish expats spread across the world now also have access to our own GAA sports of hurling and football, so that gambling on GAA sports online is also increasing across the world. The sports gambling web sites have vastly increased our choices when it comes to where we concentrate our gambling activities, as have the online casino gambling sites in terms of the range of gambling games they now offer, but there clearly has been an effect on our high street betting shops and the job security of the people employed in those shops. Nevertheless there is little doubt that the internet and the online gambling sites have made life very much easier for sports gambling fans and has improved the experience of sports gambling and the options we now have. Sports gambling is of course a leisure activity for most of us and the internet has made that far more enjoyable.