Now that the football world cup is over for another four years perhaps we should reflect on the history of sport in general and how it has impacted on the human race. Competition amongst men and more recently women to be the strongest, fastest or most skilful dates back through hundreds of years of our history, with the gladiators and chariot racing of the Roman Empire and the beginnings of what we now know as the Olympic Games in Greece providing excellent examples. Since then of course we have invented a much wider range of sports and sporting events, but they nearly all involve competition and confrontation in one form or another. There is also another human activity which has accompanied all of these sports and sporting events throughout their history, and that is gambling. Whenever humans have competed with each other there have always been people who would gamble on the result, and as we invented more and more sports so more and more people became involved in watching and competing, and of course gambling on the result. Clearly in historical terms many of the sports we now play and watch are relatively recent innovations, and the variety of sports has only really begun to increase as we found ourselves to have more leisure time. The same story clearly applies to the expansion of sports gambling, although in this case we have seen another significant factor which has had a big influence on the speed of that development, namely the introduction of online gambling. As with many other areas of our lives the internet has had a dramatic effect on our gambling habits, with both online sports gambling and what we now refer to as online casino gambling becoming more widely popular leisure activities than ever before. Once again it is the much greater range of gambling options which has driven that growth in popularity. Online casino gambling sites all now offer a huge range of gambling games for their customers to enjoy, and it would be difficult to name a sport or sporting event which is not covered by most of the online sports gambling sites. Gone are the days when sports gambling was nearly always limited to horse racing or greyhound racing either at the track or in the local betting shop. It was of course football which began to break the dominance of horse racing and greyhound racing as far as sports gambling was concerned, and that was almost certainly the result of the rapid expansion of satellite television coverage of the sport. The wide ranging sports coverage brought about by the satellite television companies has also contributed to the increasing interest in many other sports of course, as again as the audience for these sports increases so naturally does the gambling interest in them. The growth of sports gambling and the huge variety of sports gambling options is therefore a combination of the effects of the introduction of online gambling and the expansion of satellite television coverage.
Here in Ireland of course our instinctive love of horses means that gambling on horse racing probably remains our biggest sports gambling activity in spite of the many alternative attractions, but there is also an increasing interest in many of what used to be called minority interest sports. As we have just witnessed with the football world cup, major tournaments particularly when televised will always dramatically increase the gambling interest in that particular sport, so the beginning of The Open at Carnoustie this week will almost certainly drive a massive increase in gambling on golf. The same can be said for gambling on rugby during the annual Six Nations tournament and even gambling on snooker when a major tournament is being televised. Although as we have said television coverage is an important element in sports gambling, it is not the only factor which affects our gambling interest. Irish national success is also a major factor, as is the success of Irish individuals in their particular sport. Again golf and rugby are perfect examples of how success can drive the popularity of a particular sport and therefore the gambling activity relating to that sport. We have even recently seen some success for the Irish team on the cricket field, and although you could hardly say yet that gambling on cricket is a major sports gambling activity continued success may change that in the future. So far we have only discussed how the introduction of online sports gambling has affected our gambling interest on the sports we have traditionally played here in Ireland, but the huge range of sports and sporting events we can now follow online has also introduced us to gambling on other sports from around the world. In the same way as interest in our GAA sports tends to be confined to these shores or to the millions of ex pats around the world, many American sports are only just beginning to attract audiences in other parts of the world. American football, baseball and basketball are all becoming increasingly popular among the Irish sports gambling community, and even ice hockey is gradually attracting our interest. All these sports are of course increasingly now being played in other parts of the world of course, as well as attracting interest on television so we can probably assume that they will also become more popular as a sports gambling option across the world. There is no doubt that interest in sports gambling has been part of our history for hundreds of years, but we have also seen by far the biggest growth in sports gambling ever during the last twenty years as a result of significantly wider television coverage and the introduction of online sports gambling. Both of these factors have led to a greater variety of sports and sporting events being available to us, and that in turn means that sports gambling has begun to appeal to a wider audience. There is no reason to suppose that sports gambling will not continue to grow.