Chairman, Deputies, Senators and distinguished guests, the Racegoers' Consultative Forum has been invited to make a submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the heads of the Horse Racing Ireland (amendment) Bill 2014. The forum is represented here by Joan Widger, Jack Nagle and myself to present this submission following consultation, discussion and input with all the forum members.
People ask the question: what is the Racegoers' Consultative Forum? The Racegoers' Consultative Forum is a statutory committee established under section 9 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001 - refer to Appendix 1 - to represent the views of racegoers to the board of Horse Racing Ireland. Facilitated by Horse Racing Ireland, the forum has 14 members, including two ministerial appointments. It has formal meetings every quarter, attended by senior executives of HRI, and our meetings are chaired by a HRI board member who conveys our views to the board.
The forum is made up of racegoers around the country from different regions, of different ages and from all walks of life. The aim of the forum is to improve the race-going experience for both new and regular racegoers alike. The forum is a voluntary group of people with a keen interest in horse racing. The members present written reports to the forum on race meetings they have attended. They maintain a close relationship with the executives of racecourses in their designated area. The forum also adjudicates on the Racecourse of the Year awards and provides valuable feedback to the executive of Horse Racing Ireland on any new initiative proposed or matter raised. The group is, therefore, a key voice for racegoers. The forum was also represented on a recent marketing strategy group for racing.
As everyone is aware, the racing industry is one of Ireland's highly successful indigenous stories, which generates direct employment for more than 16,000 people and contributes more than €1.1 billion to the economy. This employment is mainly spread across rural communities, thereby fulfilling a key social, as well as an economic, benefit to society. Racegoers form an integral part of Irish racing as evidenced by the fact that in 2013, attendance at 349 race meetings throughout Ireland was 1.24 million people, which included more than 80,000 foreign tourists. We split racegoers into three broad categories, the first being horse racing enthusiasts, including those involved in the industry and regular racegoers. The second category comprises punters or the betting public, that is, racegoers whose main interest is in the betting aspect of racing. Third, the social racegoers represent people who attend race meetings as part of wider social events such as the annual Galway, Punchestown and Leopardstown festivals, as well as the Listowel festival this week. The attendance this year at Galway was 149,000 racegoers, who contributed an estimated €60 million to the local economy, and total betting turnover there was €14.5 million. The attendance at Punchestown in 2014 was 107,000 racegoers, with an estimated contribution of €50 million to the local economy and a betting turnover of €9.3 million. This week, approximately 88,000 people will pass through the gates of the Listowel event, which is more than will attend the all-Ireland final, and the turnover in betting last year was approximately €5 million. While these numbers are impressive, attendance at ordinary meetings has fallen. Total on-course betting has decreased from €180 million to €132 million over the past five years. Any adverse movement in betting tax or a lack of improvement in basic facilities at racecourses will have a serious impact on these figures. Interestingly, the income from media rights is propping up many racecourse finances. However, in a recent financial statement Ladbrokes plc stated that horse racing as a product is continuing to decline. While the cost to it of racing is rising, the racing industry continues to pursue strategies to increase the return from betting. Everyone is also well aware of the shift to betting online in every sport, including football, rugby, soccer and golf in play to the final putt, which is attracting the younger generation who are racing clients of the future.
The forum aims to represent the views and interests of all racegoers and while we are supportive of the plans to implement the recommendations of the Indecon report and the proposals outlined in the Horse Racing Ireland (amendment) Bill 2014, we wish to highlight to the joint committee the following specific areas of our concern. As for head 4 on membership of the HRI, given the pivotal importance that racegoers have on the economic viability of the industry, the forum recommends strongly that there should be a place for a racegoer representative on the HRI board.
This representative would be selected from among members of the forum by members of the forum for appointment by the Minister in accordance with head 4, appropriately amended. This would provide a stronger voice for racegoers on the board of HRI than exists at present.
Head 5 covers the amendment of general functions of HRI. In consolidating the administrative and financial management of all aspects of Irish horseracing, including the integrity of services, appropriate steps and measures should be put in place to ensure that all services provided to racegoers are to an agreed high standard. These standards are to be upheld at all racecourses so as to promote and develop racegoers' attendance at track meetings.
Head 15 deals with the horse and greyhound fund. We recommend that part of this fund be ring-fenced to go to capital funding to enhance racecourse facilities right across the country, so that over time racegoers can experience a good quality and consistent standard from all racecourses.
We have a proposal from the forum for additional changes to the existing legislation. As regards the Racegoers' Consultative Forum itself, given the importance of a strong voice for racegoers, we wish to make a number of proposed recommendations to the statutory Act, such that the forum will have a clearer, more transparent and public role in supporting and promoting racegoers. With this in mind we propose that section 9 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, pertaining to the forum and as detailed in appendix 1, be amended in line with the specifics of appendix 2 in this submission. The detailed rationale for those changes is set out in the explanatory notes in appendix 2.
In summary, the purpose of these changes is to make the work of the forum more effective, to give a stronger voice to racegoers, and to ensure that its views and recommendations to improve the experience of racegoers can be more fully taken into account and be responded to appropriately by the relevant sections of the industry.
I will now deal with the betting tax. We are fully aware that the legislation before the joint committee does not directly concern the taxation on betting. We are also aware that separate legislation, the Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013, has just gone through Report and Final Stages in the House. However, the forum notes that the debate on betting tax has arisen in the committee's work.
The forum wishes to support the development of a sustainable self-financing model for the horseracing industry. However, this shall not be at the expense of the betting public. We are concerned that any general tax levied on betting and the betting public could have a detrimental effect on betting and racegoer attendances. Given the connection that this has to the horse and greyhound fund, we recommend that any future levy, after the Bill, should not apply on the track at the racecourse. This will support the development of racegoer attendances and protect in particular the betting public's attendance at the racetrack.
We thank the joint committee for giving us an opportunity to provide feedback on the Bill on behalf of all members of the forum and, indeed, all racegoers. We are asking the joint committee in its report to the Minister on the general scheme to support the proposals in our submission for amendments to the legislation. These would first, include provision for a forum member on the board of HRI and second, incorporate the changes to section 9 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001 as set out in appendix 2 of this submission.
We thank the committee members for their attention and would welcome any questions or clarification required on any aspect of our submission.