A blog. If someone told me this time last year I would be writing blogs I would have laughed and thought very little more of it. I genuinely don’t get the concept of Instagram or Snap Chat. I was on Facebook for a short while, people used to wish me a happy birthday on it and the next I would hear from them would be 12 months later with birthday greetings again. A bizarre universe social media is. I am a Twitter user, it’s good for news and for trying to promote my business. Could I live without it? Absolutely. It’s not the nicest place at times. Any time I get dragged into a debate on it, usually with an anonymous person, I end up annoyed with myself for ever getting involved in the first place. I do enjoy myself, however life isn’t a contest. If I am somewhere nice or walking somewhere I can take it in and enjoy it. If I like a photo I can send it to a close friend on Whatsapp or even hang it on my wall. Am I old fashioned? Probably. Will I change? Unlikely. So to be a blogger is one of the least likely things I ever thought I would be! However, I enjoy giving my views and opinions on racing. Not everyone agrees with them and that’s okay. I put my name to it and will always stand over it. If the blog generates healthy debate I’m very happy with that. Constructive criticism is also fine, I’m a big boy!

2020 has been really difficult for all Oncourse Bookmakers. Our ability to earn an income has been taken away from us through absolutely no fault of our own. The racing world has continued on without us. That’s the reality. In life, everyone can be done without. The disappointing part about it from my point of view is the lack of support from HRI (Horse Racing Ireland), AIR (Association of Irish Racecourses) and government.

As a business we as on course bookmakers need support. We are a small cog in a big wheel but we are an integral part of the race day experience for racegoers. We need some clarity on the pitch fee structure going forward. We need commitment from HRI and AIR. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect to pay little to no pitch fees for any meetings we do attend in 2021. We have paid fortunes to racecourses down through the years and I think now is the time we need to get a break. HRI have got increased funding from government, racecourses have been given relief by HRI, I hope we get some meaningful relief. God knows we need it. We need to see action rather than words. I feel like we have been completely ignored. Treat somebody as you would want to be treated yourself would be my message to HRI and AIR. At the minute it feels like a genocide of bookmakers could be on the horizon.

Politics and religion are touchy subjects. Before this year I would rarely comment on either publicly. Respect everyone even if you don’t agree with their views. 2020 has changed my outlook on politics and politicians. There is no doubt the vast majority of them are cowboys. Varadkar, Martin and their opposition counterparts. Not a leader among them. They have treated business people and their employees with utter contempt this year. On course bookmakers are actually ineligible for CRSS schemes, re start grants etc. We have been completely abandoned. Van repayments, equipment repayments, bank loans etc. have all had to be met without earning in 9 months. The majority of politicians contacted replied with a message of sympathy and that’s all, others hadn’t the manners to reply at all. Some industries such as publicans, construction etc. have been very well looked after. We’ve been treated like second class citizens. I’ll remember it the next time I’m at the ballot box. Charlatans.

It would be a shocking waste of time if we as on course bookmakers didn’t look at ourselves during the enforced break. What can we do differently once we return? How do we improve our lot? I’m confident there’s a demand for our service. We’ve got to compete with online firms and at the same time stand out. Despite HRI trying to force us to bet to standard each way betting terms I think the days of betting like that are over. Extra each way places on big feature race handicaps etc will have to be offered. Punters expect it now. The betting ring can be an intimidating place for novice punters. My colleagues and I will have to find a way to get younger punters into the betting ring. Blogs like this and other ideas I hope to introduce once we return to racecourses will hopefully help. Video content, how to make a book, the challenges, opportunities and an overall view of a day at the races from a bookmakers point of view. The emotion in the betting ring is real, its not choreographed for an advertisement. This is our lives. Winning and losing days. The winning days make you feel like king of the world. The losing days are very raw. We need to connect with our customer base. We’ve also got to sell ourselves better. I’ve seen first hand how larger firms treat their customers. One winning bet and its restrictions upon restrictions. They treat their customers with contempt. Offering specials that look great until you read the small print. You don’t get this with on course bookmakers. One criticism that’s often levelled at on course bookmakers is they are all going the same price. It’s a fair and valid criticism. This is part of the reason I believe different bookmakers offering different place terms will offer more variety and thus better opportunities for punters. I also believe individual on course bookmakers should have a lay to lose limit on display. I am part of a very small family run business and I’m confident I’d be willing to lay any horse to lose more than the vast majority of online firms. The above are just a small sample from a very big list. I think the shackles need to come off and bookmakers themselves need to breath some life back into betting rings up and down the country. Our regulators need to encourage it, not hinder it.

I also hope to offer a private clients service. I feel there is a gap in that market for another independent willing to lay a reasonable bet. Phone and text service. No gimmicks, no messing, prices available on all sports. If you want virtual blackjack or roulette, I won’t be your bookmaker of choice. It’s a project I am looking forward to launching next year.

2020 has not been all bad, I married my long term girlfriend and we had a party like no other. It wasn’t anything like the wedding Siobhan had planned but I don’t think either of us would have changed any of it. We had a blast. A new puppy has become part of the family, after a very difficult start in relations she is now in my good books and comes farming with me and the other 2 dogs every day. Training a cocker spaniel to be a sheep dog is proving to be rather difficult! There was some positives on the business front also, I think we worked 9 days and didn’t lose on any of them! A strike rate that we will struggle to match ever again!

Finally, to those of you who take the time to read my blogs I want to thank you and wish you and your families a merry Christmas and a happy new year. None of us will get our annual Christmas pilgrimage to a race meeting this year but light is appearing at the end of the tunnel. The Irish guineas meeting in May has a big circle around it already in my 2021 calendar. I hope by then we will all be back to some form of normality. 2020 is a year none of us will ever forget, it has affected some of us an awful lot worse than others but in life we play the hand we are dealt. Good riddance to that awful year and bring on 2021. I’m confident the best is yet to come as there are far better days ahead than what we are leaving behind.

Best wishes,