How Much Gambling Takes Place in Ireland?

When we think of Ireland, we may think of many things ranging from lush green landscapes to Guinness and Irish dancing, but it may be surprising to learn that the country has a passion for gambling.

Such a passion that in 2019, gambling in Ireland brought in more than €90 million, and in 2024, the online gambling alone market is expected to surpass €1 billion. This rapid growth shows no signs of slowing down; in fact, it's projected to maintain a 2.5% growth rate over the next four years.

What is it about the Irish nation that's propelling this industry forward at such a rapid rate? Well, the answer to this question seems to be wrapped up in multiple aspects, from the history and perceptions of gambling within Ireland's culture to today's evolving landscape around gambling (the advent of online gambling, in particular).

The History of Gambling in Ireland

Gambling has a long history in Ireland, with the earliest evidence of it appearing as early as 110 BC. Throughout this long history, betting on horse races has been the most popular form of gambling, with its popularity only beginning to wane in recent years.

Alongside horse racing, placing wagers on activities like sports and card games was a popular form of gambling and pastime for the Irish. These long-held interests show that gambling has long had a place in Irish culture in much the same way it has found a place in other countries.

While gambling has been a part of Irish culture for centuries, gambling was unregulated for much of this time. Horse racing only began being regulated in the early 1900s, and it was the first form of gambling made legal in Ireland. It wasn't until 1956 that gaming in the form of raffles or bingo was legalized, and it took just over twenty years after that for casinos and their games to become legal.

The Gambling Landscape in Ireland Today

Today, many forms of gambling are legal in Ireland, including horse racing, sports betting, lotteries, casino games, and even online gaming (something that has yet to be embraced everywhere). The most popular form of gambling is the lottery, with more than half the population, roughly 56%, participating in purchasing lotto tickets and scratch cards.

Horse racing and sports betting closely follow the lottery in terms of popularity. In fact, major annual horse racing events, like the Irish Grand National and Cheltenham Festival, draw huge crowds of locals and tourists. This is a particularly considerable feat, given that both events have existed since the late 1800s.

Though casinos have only been legal in Ireland since the ‘70s, there are now over two dozen in the country (an impressive number considering Ireland has a relatively small footprint). Most casinos can be found in hubs like Dublin.

Online Gambling
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Today's gambling landscape can't be spoken about without placing emphasis on the growing online gambling industry. Ireland's online casino scene and remote sports betting have steadily gained popularity since being legalized in 2015. Online gambling is so popular that it's projected most of Ireland's gambling revenue will come from it in the next four years.

As noted at the beginning of this article, online gambling has become a lucrative and soon-to-be billion-dollar industry in Ireland. Of the stats around gambling, it isn't the revenue, growth, or popularity of online gaming options that's most notable — despite their significant stats and numbers. Instead, it's the number of people who struggle with problem gambling within the country.

In 2023, a survey by the Economic and Social Research Institute revealed that problem gambling has impacted 1 in 30 adults, or roughly 130,000 Irish citizens. A significant rise (almost ten times more) than the numbers published in a survey five years earlier. Individuals experiencing problem gambling make up nearly 30% of Ireland's gaming revenue, spending over €1000 every month. Those struggling with problem gambling the most are men and those in their 30s. The form of gambling most used by those struggling is online gaming.

In addition to these numbers, the survey revealed that roughly 270,000 people deal with some negative consequences of gambling. However, they do not fall into the classification of problem gamblers.

Before releasing these numbers, the Irish government was already working on implementing the Gambling Regulation Bill. This bill would help shape and give authority to the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI). This authority would help to regulate online gambling within Ireland, including putting in place support for problem gambling.

What Does the Future Hold for Gambling in Ireland?

While the regulations are shifting around gaming, particularly online gambling, the growth of the industry is likely to continue in the coming years.

The concerns that are growing around problem gambling also indicate that more resources will be put into education and raising awareness about preventing problem gambling and supporting those struggling or impacted by the problem.

It's also likely that as the GRAI is given authority, stricter guidelines will emerge around advertising for gaming and issuing gaming licences, particularly for online gaming.

Final Thoughts

Looking at how gambling in Ireland has evolved over centuries and how the regulations are shifting to accommodate the changing landscape, Ireland's thriving gaming business is no surprise. And while horse racing may no longer be the top form of gambling in the country, the rise of online gambling (which shows no signs of slowing down) tells us that preferences can shift and change, but gambling isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

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