Belfast bookie wins first stage of legal fight to maintain prominent racecourse pitch
BELFAST bookmaker Brian Graham has won the first stage of a legal battle to block planned changes to the betting ring at Irish horse racing meetings which could have seen some bookies pitch up in bars, restaurants and by the parade ring.
Proposals mooted last year by industry ruling body Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) would have effectively changed the seniority and pitch status which applies to bookies at most of the courses across the island (though notably not Down Royal and Downpatrick in the north).
The Irish National Professional Bookmakers Association (INPBA) and Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) aimed to grant bookies access to areas outside the traditional betting zones and which previously had been out of bounds to them.
The industry - whose takings have slumped over the last decades - were broadly in favour of the changes, including Grahams.
But the new regulations would have seen those prime pitches offered on a rotational basis and not on seniority, and Brian Graham - whose company has been operating for half a century - claims that served to disadvantage long established senior pitch holders like Graham Bookmakers.
At the High Court in Dublin he was granted leave to pursue a judicial review against Horse Racing Ireland to quash the decision to rotate the pitches, and the rules have been set aside ahead of a fresh legal hearing on March 28.
Mr Graham welcomed High Court decision and said: “All we are seeking is a pitch and seniority process at racecourses which reflects and accounts for long standing arrangements which have served the industry well.
"We are looking for HRI to implement the rules fairly and impartially, and to recognise the long established seniority rights which my family have acquired over the year."
He added: "Rules were changed in the course of last year in a way which we contend was not transparent and did not facilitate proper engagement with the industry.
"New rules were introduced allowing bookmakers access to ‘premium areas’ within the racecourse which set aside seniority in favour of a rotational system. Such a move erodes our long standing rights and the value of our original investments.
“I pursued the matter within HRI and believe very strongly that the pitch process was flawed on many levels. That argument has now been acknowledged by the court."
The ruling comes in the wake of a special report in turf bible the Racing Post which revealed that turnover in Ireland's betting rings in the last decade has plummeted by around 150 per cent.
Figures show that on-course turnover at Irish meetings has collapsed from €197.3m (£168.5m) in 2006 to just €75.9m (£64.8m) last year.
Indeed one bookie said he turned over just €2,000 at Leopardstown on January 29 - Irish Champion Hurdle day - while another layer claimed he took just 57 bets at a high profile meeting at the same course a week earlier.