Ireland’s retail bookmakers plan to reopen their shops in the final week of June, despite local racing’s plans to reopen three weeks earlier.
This past weekend, the Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA) announced that an agreement has been reached to reopen 755 of the nation’s 814 betting shops on June 29. The timing coincides with the third phase of the Irish government’s plan to restart its economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ireland shut most of its betting shops in mid-March in a bid to minimize further spread of the coronavirus, but the IBA stated at the time that the shutdown was intended to last only two weeks, not the three-plus months that it’s currently slated to last.
Irish racing plans to resume its operations on a ‘behind closed doors’ basis at certain centrally-located racecourses on June 8 – coinciding with phase two of the government’s recovery roadmap – with the Irish Derby hoping to stick to its current June 27 target. If so, it means Irish bookmakers will miss out on one of the bigger paydays on their traditional calendar.
Before the shops open, they will need to establish proper protocols regarding social distancing, disinfecting and other concerns. Shops will operate on a limited capacity, with customers encouraged to linger only long enough to place their bet rather than stay to watch a race on the in-shop televisions.
That said, it remains to be seen how keen bettors will be to enter a confined space to wager, particularly when online betting options abound.
There are roughly 6,000 shop staff and support workers that have been effectively idle since the March shutdown, while betting operators have been trying to negotiate rental relief with their landlords, with varying degrees of success.
The sector was already struggling before the pandemic due to the new 2% turnover tax, a burden that the tiny tax breaks the government gave mom-and-pop bookies in the 2020 budget couldn’t hope to offset. Hopes are rising that the government will offer some additional fiscal relief to a sector that can’t stand too much more bad luck.