Much has been written about the impact of the introduction of online gambling in Ireland and indeed elsewhere in the world, but one of the most striking factors has got to be the huge increase in gambling options that online gambling has provided. That massive increase in choice can be seen in all aspects of online gambling and is particularly obvious on both the sports gambling and casino gambling sites. Before the leading bookmakers decided to join the internet revolution and offer their customers the opportunity to do their sports gambling online, sports fans in Ireland were generally only encouraged in our high street betting shops to gamble on horse racing, greyhound racing and football. Most betting shops never advertised odds on any other sports or sporting events, so unless we specifically asked for them other sports were more or less forgotten as far as gambling was concerned. When the first online sports gambling sites did become available most sports gambling enthusiasts would have been absolutely staggered by the huge range of sports and sporting events featured on those sites. Suddenly we were given the opportunity to gamble on a whole range of different sports and sporting events, not only in Ireland and the UK but from all over the world. Horse racing fans could place bets on horse racing in Australia or even America just as easily as gambling on a local meeting. One of the major concerns expressed when the bookmakers launched their online sports gambling sites was that it would seriously affect attendance figures at our race tracks and even at our football stadiums. In the end those fears turned out to be totally unfounded because Irish horse racing fans still enjoy their day at the races, and the trackside bookies are doing as well as ever. Similarly it appears that nothing will stop serious football supporters going to match, certainly not gambling online. Even grey hound racing has continued to gain in popularity since recovering from a period of decline caused by lack of investment. The hospitality facilities at most of our greyhound tracks are now superb and almost every evening meeting attracts big numbers of supporters looking for a good night out. Ireland is undoubtedly a sports mad country and the introduction of online gambling has only served to expand our sporting interests to encompass a whole new range of sports.
To be fair horse racing, greyhound racing and football are still the most popular sports amongst the Irish sports gambling community, usually only rivalled by the occasional really big major international event. The Olympics for instance always attracts a great deal of gambling interest across a whole range of different sports, but that is only once every four years. The Ryder Cup is another sporting event which provides a huge boost to gambling on a specific sport, namely golf, as does the annual Wimbledon championships for gambling on tennis. Gambling on some of these so called minor sports is of course not totally dependent on there being a major event in progress. Golf for instance has become a popular gambling option in Ireland over recent years because of the growing success of many of our Irish players, and there are other examples where success has greatly raised the profile of particular sports. The Irish rugby teams for instance have been riding high for a number of years, both at international level in the Six Nations and at provincial level in the European competitions. This has led to a big increase in gambling on rugby in Ireland, even extending to following the British and Irish Lions on their tours down under.
The opportunity to gamble on sporting events elsewhere in the world has also significantly changed our sports gambling habits. We can now follow the big American sports such as baseball, basketball, gridiron football and even ice hockey. All these sports are becoming increasingly popular gambling options here in Ireland. This international aspect of online sports gambling also has an effect in the opposite direction for Irish expats across the world. The Americans have their favourite sports and we have our own GAA sports, which can now not only be the subject of gambling activity here in Ireland, but also attracts attention wherever there is a big Irish community. This is another area in which online gambling has increased the profile of that particular sport rather than having a harmful effect as was feared.
Whilst there is no doubt that the introduction of online sports gambling has provided a boost for a number of different sports in terms of increased gambling options, we shouldn’t ignore the effects of television on some sports. The most obvious example of the effects of blanket television coverage on a sport is of course football, and although gambling on football has always been one of the most popular sports gambling activities in Ireland, the spread of satellite television and televised football from all over the world has had a huge effect on the numbers of us regularly gambling on football. Another sport which many believe owes its popularity solely to being shown on television is snooker. Before programmes such as Pot Black hit our screens, snooker was almost totally confined to specialist snooker halls and a few clubs. It is now a major gambling sport across the world and the top players have become household names because of television. The same thing is now happening with darts, which has again gone from just a popular pub game to a major competitive sport. Although not generally regarded as a sport, we have seen a similar effect on the game of poker over recent years. The massive increase in popularity of gambling on poker has actually been the result of both television coverage and the introduction of online gambling. The internet and television have both changed the way we spend our leisure time in many ways, but their influence on our sports gambling habits is probably more obvious than in some other areas of our lives.