There is no doubt that for many years the favourite gambling activity here in Ireland has been gambling on horse racing. Horse racing has become so popular that it even represents a significant part of our economy, with several successful trainers and stables based in the country with their horses competing in race meetings all over the world. Many of the betting shops on our high streets were almost completely dependent on our love of gambling on horse racing or to a lesser extent gambling on greyhound racing. Apart from an increasing turnover from gambling on football, which is actually a fairly recent phenomena, gambling on these two sports was the life blood of the big bookmakers and their betting shops. The introduction of online gambling however has begun to change the whole balance of sports gambling in Ireland and almost everywhere else in the world where internet access is widely available. Online gambling has also vastly increased the importance of gambling games in the overall gambling sector, even for the leading bookmakers who first invested in online gambling. The first online gambling sites were all introduced by the big bookmakers we all know from their high street betting shops, and they were all originally targeted at their existing sports gambling customers. It wasn’t long however before we began to see a range of gambling games being added to those sports gambling sites, resulting in the advent of what we now call online casino gambling and of course providing all gambling enthusiasts of all types with far more choice than ever before. Fans of casino gambling who were regular visitors to our real casinos were suddenly able to play traditional casino games such as craps and baccarat which were rarely if ever available here in Ireland, and the thousands of bingo fans were also offered a wide choice of numbers games based on bingo. The increase in choice arising from the introduction of online gambling was not however limited to the casino gambling sector, sports gambling enthusiasts also found that they were now able to follow a much wider range of sports. As we have already pointed out most of our betting shops tended to concentrate their promotions and advertised odds on the sports of horse racing, greyhound racing and more recently football, but visit any of the major online sports gambling sites and you will see quoted odds on a huge range of sports and sporting events from all over the world. Clearly horse racing, greyhound racing and football are still probably the most popular sports among the gambling public, but enthusiastic followers of these sports are no longer limited to gambling on events taking place here or in the UK or Europe. Southern hemisphere football matches from South America for example are available to football gambling fans in Ireland, as are horse races from tracks all over the world. The big online sports gambling sites have proved to be very successful, and not just because they provide us with a more convenient way to gamble on our favourite sports but also because of the choices they offer. There are many sports for instance which have generally been considered to be minor sports when it comes to gambling which are now increasingly popular among online sports gamblers. Rugby for example has a popular sport in Ireland because our national and provincial sides have been very successful recently, but most of the rugby gambling activity used to be confined to the short period during the six nations tournament. Now rugby gambling opportunities are available throughout the season. Rugby is of course not the only sport which has benefited from the introduction of online gambling, our own GAA sports have also seen a significant increase in gambling interest online. We have also seen the GAA sports in particular attract a lot of interest from overseas, where Irish ex pats can now access gambling on these sports online.
Many of the other so called minor gambling sports which historically only attracted significant interest during major tournaments have also witnessed far more regular sports gambling activity as a result of easy access online. Tennis for example was avidly followed during Wimbledon, and the other Grand Slam tournaments but rarely during the rest of the season. Golf is another sport which was again popular among the sports gambling public during the Majors or the Ryder Cup, but interest was far less over the rest of the year in spite of the fact that we have a number of very fine and successful Irish golfers. We have already commented on the fact that Irish ex pats can now follow the popular GAA sports through online sports gambling sites, but these sites also provide us here in Ireland with the chance to take an interest in sports not usually played here. Many of us now follow American football and baseball online, and even ice hockey now has a strong following among Irish sports gambling fans. When it comes to sports such as these American favourites we should also recognise the influence of satellite television of course, because they have provided widespread coverage of a vast array of different sports and built up a whole new audience for many of them across the world. The online sports gambling sites have then been able to take advantage of that new audience and encourage them to add those sports to their gambling interests. When it come to the effect of television on the popularity of particular sports, one of the first sports to benefit from that effect was of course snooker. Before television started to cover snooker tournaments it was very much a minority interest sport, but it grew into a huge spectator sport very quickly following programmes such as Pot Black. The same effect is also now being seen with the increased television coverage of darts, which again has been accompanied by an increase in audience figures and subsequently increased gambling activity in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe.