I observed yesterday that the betting industry has changed dramatically in recent years. When I first stepped into a betting office, the choices available were horse racing and dog racing. Now it is possible to place a bet on soccer, Gaelic games and golf, as well as virtual racing involving dogs, cars, cyclists, horses and so on. One can place a bet even where there is no live racing from any of the race meetings in Ireland or Britain. Young people, in particular, are betting more often on virtual rather than live racing.
We support the extension of betting duty to online bets. The delay in bringing forward these provisions has, according to the experts, cost the State upwards of €40 million in lost revenue in the past three years. It is important to ensure that the licensing regime is robust and equitable in terms of the treatment of domestic and overseas operators. Bookmakers in this country have been arguing for several years for a more level playing pitch, their case being that the online business has put domestic operators at an unfair disadvantage because of the non-taxation issue.
The horse racing industry provides more than 15,000 jobs and must be supported by a secure funding model. The Government has chosen not to support the proposal in the 2012 Indecon report to increase betting duty to 2%, which would have removed the need for a continuing Exchequer contribution to the horse and greyhound racing fund. The Minister might explain why he rejected that recommendation and whether he intends to review the decision in the future.
The Bill replaces the 1931 Act and is urgently needed in order to modernise the betting industry. We have seen a major change in recent years, with a move away from the private operators and family-run businesses that were there in the past. Instead, major companies like Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and Boylesports have cornered the majority of the market and have opened offices even in smaller towns. In my home town of Enniscorthy, for example, with a population of 6,000 or 7,000, one of these bookmakers has three shops in operation. A great deal of money is being expended in the gambling industry. It would have made sense for the gambling control Bill, which is delayed until 2015, to have been introduced in conjunction with this Bill. As it collects the additional revenue accruing to the Exchequer this year and next from these provisions, the Government must heed its duty to those people who are vulnerable to problem gambling. We look forward to the introduction of the gambling control Bill as a means of setting down rules and guidelines for the industry in that area.
The provision in the Bill for extended opening hours, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., has been greeted with concern in some quarters. The question does arise as to why a bookmaker's office would have to open so early in the morning and stay open so late. There are legitimate concerns that these extended openings might encourage younger people to go in on their way to college or work. On a recent trip to Britain I visited a small, family-run bookmaking business which despite being able, under the law in that country, to open earlier, had chosen not to open until 9 a.m. or 9.30 a.m. That seems a more reasonable opening time. I hope the Minister will be willing to accept amendments in this regard on Committee Stage.
The extended opening hours are also a matter of concern to staff. In fact, in any bookmaker's office I visit I am asked whether I will oppose the Bill. I realise there are guidelines in regard to working conditions and so on, but many of the staff working in bookmaker's offices are employed on a part-time basis and are on low pay. They are concerned that they will now be asked to work unsociable hours. That issue must be addressed, not necessarily by the Minister but certainly by bookmakers themselves. There must be clarity for staff in terms of how the system will operate in the future.
The extension of betting duty to online and offshore telephone betting is an important step in levelling the playing pitch and allowing smaller operators to compete. It will mean additional revenue for the State, which is also welcome. Based on estimates by the horse-racing industry of Irish betting turnover in 2011, this extra revenue should be in the region of €12.1 million on telephone and online betting and €2 million from betting exchanges, provided that all remote betting is conducted through licensed remote bookmakers or licensed remote betting intermediaries. I welcome the provisions in this regard and the Minister's undertaking to enforce them stringently.
As it stands, betting revenue, together with an additional subsidy, goes to the horse and greyhound racing fund, with moneys being distributed from the fund to Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon to develop the horse and greyhound industries, including by way of race course developments, distribution of prize money and regulating and promoting the industries. However, in recent years, revenue from betting duty on off-course betting has declined while, at the same time, online betting has increased. In that context, consideration must be given as to how the industry will be funded into the future. The prize money for Irish racing is very good, making it very worthwhile for horse trainers and owners to attend race meetings. That is possibly not so much the case in the United Kingdom. We do not want a situation where prize moneys are reduced, which would have a negative impact on the industry. Any moneys raised in this area must continue to go towards the development of an industry that is of particular importance in rural areas.
As already stated, small and large farmers in my county are all involved in breeding, rearing or training horses. I am of the view that this industry and the greyhound industry are extremely viable.
I welcome the Bill, which represents a move in the right direction. There are some concerns with regard to the long hours of opening and how these will be policed. Will there be an increase in gambling among younger people as a result of the extension of the opening hours? The Bill has been welcomed by bookmakers, particularly those small private operators who believe it will level the playing field and ensure that major online betting companies will be obliged to pay their fair share of tax. I do not know how the relevant provisions in this regard will be implemented. Ultimately, it will be the responsibility of the Minister and the Revenue Commissioners to ensure that they are implemented. They will certainly have their hands full in the context of trying to obtain the maximum amount of tax from those involved in the betting industry, particularly as the latter know every trick in the book and will be doing their utmost to avoid the payment of as much tax as possible. I hope they will not avoid tax and that they will pay their fair share. I also hope that the moneys raised as a result will continue to be ploughed into the horse and greyhound industries in order that they might remain viable into the future.