For many years the biggest gambling activity here in Ireland was undoubtedly sports gambling, and in particular gambling on horse racing. Those able to experience gambling in a casino were very much in the minority in Ireland and the only other major gambling pastime apart from playing the slot machines in our pubs and clubs was the ever popular game of bingo. The gambling enthusiasts amongst us in fact had very little alternative to gambling through the high street betting shops, most of which were almost entirely focused on horse racing and greyhound racing. Recently gambling on football has slowly become more popular and many of our betting shops do now advertise the odds they are offering on football results, albeit primarily the English Premier League rather than Irish football. The introduction of online gambling has however changed almost everything to do with gambling because it has provided us with far more gambling options than ever before, both in the field of sports gambling and even more obviously in the range of gambling games we can now play at the online casino gambling sites. Since the big bookmakers began to introduce their large online sports gambling sites they have not only been able to expand the range of sports we can follow, they also allow us to follow sporting events from all around the world so that there are no longer recognised seasons restricting when we can bet on our favourite sports. The sporting world has of course been changing gradually for a number of years, and as more and more sports turn professional so their seasons have become longer and longer with many sports now taking place all year round. This was made possible originally by increasingly widespread sports coverage through satellite television, but the introduction of internet sports gambling has now added further impetus to that development. Football in particular is now a global sport played almost everywhere in the world, and a combination of television coverage and the online football gambling options on the internet has meant that it is now possible to watch and bet on football almost every day of the year. When online sports gambling was first introduced many people were worried whether we would see the same effect that internet shopping was having on our high streets, and whether attendance at live sporting events would suffer, and although we have seen a reduction in footfall through our betting shops there fortunately does not appear to have been any lack of enthusiasm for live sport. The big horse race meetings still attract huge crowds and increased investment in our grey hound racing tracks also seems to have resulted in increasing attendances following a spell in the doldrums.
So far we have only concentrated on the effect that online sports gambling has had on the historically popular gambling sports such as horse racing, greyhound racing and football, but the online sports gambling sites now offer us a far wider choice than that. Sports such as cricket and tennis have never attracted much interest from within the gambling community in Ireland, but the internet sports gambling sites have made gambling on these minor sports so easy that they are both attracting far more attention. The combination of television coverage and online gambling has also boosted interest in a number of other sports which were previously the preserve of dedicated fans rather than the general public. The most obvious example of that was the rise in popularity of snooker in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but we have now seen a similar effect with the game of darts over recent years during which it has moved on from the pubs and clubs to become a serious spectator sport. Another important factor in the popularity of a particular sport is success. When Ireland are perceived to be doing well in a particular sport, gambling interest in that sport almost always increases because we all love a winner. Irish golfers for instance have had a remarkable run of success over recent years considering the relatively small size of the country, and as a consequence of that the amount of money gambled on golf has increased substantially. We have also seen a similar effect in rugby union as both the national side and the provinces have been successful. These two sports are also good indicators of another aspect of how sports gambling has changed now that we have so many more options. Both rugby and golf have their core supporters who will probably follow their events all year round, but when it comes to the big events such as the Six Nations or the golf majors there is always a surge in interest from among sports fans in general as well as the regular supporters. That is of course true of any sport because the big events tend to get more publicity than the routine season of any particular sport, and may even hit the front pages of our newspapers rather than being confined to the sports pages.
We have now examined how the increased sports gambling options resulting from the introduction of online gambling has changed which sports we gamble on, but there is another element of internet gambling we should also look at. The internet has no national boundaries so we can now access a whole range of different sports which are generally only played in other parts of the world. American football for instance is becoming increasingly popular in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, as are basketball, baseball and even ice hockey. All these sports can now be accessed through our online sports gambling sites and are attracting more and more gambling interest. The same effect can also be seen in reverse because the huge number of Irish ex pats now spread around the world can also now follow our own GAA sports through the online sports gambling sites. Very few sports or sporting events are out of bounds in terms of gambling opportunities, wherever they are taking place in the world.