The Races, the Tents, the Golden Fucking Circle are Back, in full Swing?

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Seanad Leader introduced to betting firm rep in VIP tent at Punchestown Races

 – Yesterday 10:10

The Leader of the Seanad, Regina Doherty, was introduced to a representative from a betting company at the VIP tent at Punchestown Races.

The Irish Daily Mail previously disclosed that eight TDs and senators were treated to a two-course meal and free bar in corporate hospitality at Punchestown in Co Kildare by the Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA) on April 28.

The Irish Daily Mail can reveal that the head of the IBA, Sharon Byrne, introduced Ms Doherty to a representative from Ladbrokes at the VIP event.

© Provided by Extra.ieThe Leader of the Seanad, Regina Doherty, was introduced to a representative from a betting company at the VIP tent at Punchestown Races. Pic: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Ms Doherty, a Fine Gael senator and former minister for social protection, was seated at a table in the VIP tent with Ms Byrne and Mary Mitchell O’Connor, former minister for jobs and now a business consultant.

Ms Byrne introduced a female representative of Ladbrokes to Ms Doherty and the pair spoke for between five and ten minutes.

‘We spoke about our families.

© Provided by Extra.ieThe head of the IBA, Sharon Byrne, introduced Regina Doherty to a representative from Ladbrokes at the Punchestown Races. Pic: Fran Veale

She has a daughter the same age as mine and she was talking about getting a flight out to see her,’ Ms Doherty said.

After more than a decade of promising to regulate gambling, the Oireachtas is preparing to do so for the first time with the Gambling Regulation Bill.

Ms Doherty insists she and the Ladbrokes representative did not discuss the forthcoming legislation. The Ladbrokes representative was not introduced to the other politicians at the event.

© Provided by Extra.ieRegina Doherty insists she and the Ladbrokes representative did not discuss the forthcoming legislation. Pic: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Neither the IBA nor Entain, the umbrella group that owns Ladbrokes, made any submissions to the lobbying register relating to the event, nor did they reply to a request for comment from this newspaper.

Ms Doherty is the Government’s spokeswoman in the Upper House. As Leader of the Seanad, she gets an allowance of €21,525 and two civilian drivers. She is also tasked with marshalling Government legislation through the Seanad.

Speaking to the Mail, Ms Doherty said her attendance at the VIP tent amounted to ‘poor judgement’ and that if she were invited again she would ‘reflect on it differently’.

However, she insisted there was no lobbying and said she knows Ms Byrne through organisations they are both involved in locally.

© Provided by Extra.ieRegina Doherty said her attendance at the VIP tent amounted to ‘poor judgement’ and that if she were invited again she would ‘reflect on it differently’. Pic: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Submissions from the betting giants and industry leaders to the Oireachtas Justice Committee reveal the powerful gambling lobby is resisting key aspects of legislation to regulate the sector.

The IBA represents around 750 of the 800 retail bookmakers across the country.

In its submission to the Oireachtas Justice Committee on the Gambling Regulation Bill, it raised concerns about a proposed ban on gambling advertising that would prohibit it if it ‘is visible to a school, a playground, a sports training ground, playing field or fields, or a sports venue or venues, that may be accessible or used by children’.

© Provided by Extra.ieAmong those at the event was Fine Gael TD for Wexford and former junior minister for defence Paul Kehoe. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said ‘lessons must be learned’ from the Punchestown controversy and that gambling needed to be regulated in the same way as tobacco and alcohol.

Among those at the event was Fine Gael TD for Wexford and former junior minister for defence Paul Kehoe.

When initially contacted by the Mail, Mr Kehoe refused to comment and insisted he was there in a personal capacity. ‘I’m not squealing on anyone else who was there,’ the former Fine Gael chief whip added. Discussing the matter on South East Radio earlier this month, Mr Kehoe said: ‘I’ve done it before and will do so again’, although the new legislation will ban such VIP events. He said he didn’t avail of the free bar as he was driving.

Mr Kehoe added: ‘I believe that horse racing in Co. Wexford alone, let alone the island of Ireland, is a very important economic driver here. I will continue to support it and make absolutely no apologies for supporting it whatsoever.’

© Provided by Extra.iePaul Kehoe insisted he was there in a personal capacity. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Others who attended included Fine Gael TD for Clare Joe Carey, Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary Jackie Cahill, Fianna Fáil senator Paul Daly, and Fine Gael senators Garret Ahearn, Martin Conway and John Cummins.

The Justice Committee’s report on pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill found that ‘children are currently immersed in a culture where gambling has extensively proliferated and is normalised’.

And it added: ‘The presence of gambling in sport has reached a tipping point where urgent measures have to be introduced to start to reverse the problematic relationship between sports and gambling.’

The committee recommended banning gambling ads before the 9pm watershed and suggested that ‘the potential to decouple sports advertising and gambling advertising be evaluated, particularly in terms of sports advertisements aimed at young people’.

However, the IBA said the wording of the legislation could lead to a ‘blanket ban on sponsorship at stadiums and racetracks, etc’, and warned this would affect ‘many sectors such as horse racing or greyhound racing and could result in a flow of sponsorship revenue to other jurisdictions’.

Betting companies are also lobbying to retain VIP packages and sponsorship of sports events.

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