For many years gambling on sports meant that most people had to visit their local betting shop, many of which were not exactly welcoming places and tended to be dark and dreary. It is also true that most betting shops were not geared up to cover any sports other than horse racing and to a lesser extent greyhound racing. Even gambling on football was not a particularly common activity in many of Ireland’s betting shops. Our betting shops have of course changed dramatically over the past few years, and most of them are now bright and cheerful and much more user friendly than those of yesteryear. Most have window displays featuring special deals for sports gambling fans, gambling on football is now almost on a par with gambling on horse racing in our betting shops. Controversially almost all the high street betting shops now also feature fixed odds casino gambling terminals which enable customers to play gambling games such as roulette as if they were playing online. It is not for us to get involved in the debate as to whether these machines encourage irresponsible gambling, but we do know that the rise of online gambling has put enormous pressure on the profitability of our betting shops and many of the major bookmakers have been saying that these machines are essential if the high street betting shop is to survive.
As far as sports gambling in Ireland is concerned we still appear to love gambling on horse racing more than any other sports gambling activity. Horse racing and greyhound racing are of course two sports which historically rely on spectators gambling on the races at the track, and that remains true to this day. Even though more and more of us are gambling on our favourite sports online the tracks are absolutely dependent on our attendance at their meetings for their very existence. Fortunately a day at the races is still an essential part of the Irish culture, and let’s face it there is no better place to enjoy gambling on horse racing than actually at the track. It is also true that modern technology and the capabilities of our mobile phones means that we can still choose to place our bets online even if we are at the track.
Our betting shops have done their best to respond to the rise of online sports gambling, and as we have already said gambling on football is now big business at most of our high street bookmakers but what about other sports. The single most important effect of the rise of online gambling and online sports gambling in particular is the huge expansion of gambling options. Visit any major online sports gambling site and you will find a long list of sports and sporting events for you to bet on, including many which until now probably never attracted much attention from sports gambling fans. However it is not just the increased range of sports and sporting events that have resulted from the introduction of online sports gambling, we now also have far more options as to how we gamble. For many years for example football gambling was primarily concerned only with the result, but nowadays in-play gambling enables us to bet on a wide choice of options ranging from the score at full time and half time, to who scores and when. Many people would argue that the option for us to gamble on a sporting event as it progresses is the most important development in sports gambling we have ever seen, and in-play gambling has certainly become very popular indeed.
So which other sports have benefitted most from the rise of online gambling in Ireland. Not surprisingly they tend to be those sports in which Irish teams have had a degree of success. Rugby for example is a sport which has seen Ireland have several relatively successful years in the Six Nations tournament, and this has been backed up by success for Irish provincial sides in the European Cup which has therefore led to a significant rise in interest in gambling on rugby. Rugby is also one of those sports which offers a range of gambling options including for example margin of victory, a bet which is popular when there is an overwhelming favourite. Another sport which has become popular as a result of relative success is golf. Over recent years Ireland have had a very successful crop of golfers to support and gambling on golf has risen accordingly. A golf tournament held over four days is of course and ideal gambling opportunity which enables us to follow the course of play and modify our betting as the tournament progresses.
Any discussion regarding Irish sports gambling must obviously include the GAA sports of football and hurling. Although these are primarily sports only followed exclusively in Ireland, the availability of online sports gambling has enabled the huge number of Irish expats now living abroad to reignite their interest in GAA sports which have also seen a rise in gambling online. Whilst there are many Irish Americans now gambling on GAA sports online, we have also seen Irish sports gambling fans at home gambling on American football as a result of increased television coverage and internet access.
Television coverage is also responsible for the success of other sports in attracting the attention of sports gambling fans. The popularity of snooker as a spectator sport and gambling activity is almost entirely down to the television coverage over many years, and we are now seeing a very similar situation with darts. Both of these sports are ideal for in-play gambling, particularly snooker where individual frames can be forecast as well as the final result. Gambling on motor racing, particularly Formula One racing has also become more popular as a result of widespread television and radio coverage, and although many of the big fights are no longer free to watch on terrestrial television gambling on boxing is also a very popular sports gambling activity.
Whatever your chosen sport the availability of online gambling has probably increased its fan base in every country where sports gambling is part of the culture, and certainly in Ireland.