History Of Sports Betting in Ireland: How It Started

For the majority of the modern era, Ireland was a part of either England or the United Kingdom. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the development of gaming in Ireland parallels that of gambling in the UK. Though gambling in Ireland has been there since before the Romans arrived in the “British Isles,” its origins may be traced back to a time before the English invasion. Gambling has been a favorite hobby of the Irish since the dawn of history in the land of supernatural beings and four-leaf clovers.

Far, Long Ago

Evidence of gambling in Ireland dates back to the time of Conaire Mór, a High Monarch of Ireland, who reigned between 110 BC and 60 AD, long before Ireland sports betting laws were established. Curragh, now the location of the Irish National Stud, a government-owned Thoroughbred horse breeding facility, was formerly the site of frequent chariot races, where locals and visitors alike placed wagers.

Sports Wagering

The second part of the twentieth century saw a rise in the popularity of sports betting across the world, including in Ireland. The island’s lengthy history of horse racing served as a springboard for the explosion of sports betting that led to the passage of the 1962 Betting Act. After then, several established bookmakers began accepting wagers on games of all kinds. Rugby is currently the most popular betting sport, followed by horse racing, but the NFL is quickly gaining ground and might soon replace both of these sports. 


Paddy Power, the world’s largest bookmaker, is headquartered in Ireland. In 1988, Stewart Kenny, David Power, and John Corcoran, three of Ireland’s largest bookmakers, merged to become what is now known as Paddy Power. Paddy Power and Betfair joined in 2016, forming what is now known as Paddy Power Betfair. The business eventually became known as Flutter Entertainment.

Horse Racing

Gambling has a long and storied history in Ireland, as it does around the world. Like in England, the practice of wagering on horse races caught hold in Ireland. Since the 17th century, when England annexed Ireland as a colony, a number of the laws and practices of Ireland have been modeled after those of England. The islands’ wealthy elite regularly moved between them, and the English impact was pervasive. Horse racing, for one, became more formalized and established, elevating the level of surety with which gamblers could back their horses. Quickly, a plethora of licensed bookmakers began taking wagers at Irish hippodromes. Institutional gambling, comparable to that in England, was quickly established in Ireland since horse racing has long been a major form of entertainment there. There were 409 different places to wager on horse races in Ireland by 1751.


Over the years, horse betting has been Ireland’s most lucrative form of gambling. A considerable decline in revenue wasn’t seen until the 2010s when its decline began. Since 2007’s high of €282 million, it has fallen to 2016’s low of €169 million. Similarly, there has been a steady decline in the number of regulated betting offices, which dropped from 1,385 in 2008 to 850 in 2016. This is not unique to Ireland; worldwide, horse racing is succumbing to the rising popularity of other types of gambling, notably internet casinos. Another massive unrelated industrial drop within the gaming industry to take note of is the Steam Games Revenue, which is anticipated to drop by $1.2B in 2022.

Card Games

During most of the time that Ireland was ruled by the English, gambling was not controlled in any way. London’s reign was always tumultuous, but the English didn’t want to make things worse by worrying too much about the well-being of the Irish people. Other than taxation, they mostly disregarded local lords and wealthy landowners as the decision-makers in most matters. They had no incentive to anger the locals, so they sanctioned activities like gambling that they saw as harmless diversions. In contrast to England, where card playing was subject to regulation and even banned on rare occasions, Irish citizens were left alone to enjoy their hobby. Like many forms of gambling, the games they played were brought to England from continental Europe, namely France and Italy.

Recreational Gambling in Free Ireland

By establishing the Irish Free State in 1922, Ireland was given some measure of self-rule. The irony is that it was at this time that the first gaming laws were enacted on the island. When the Gambling Act was passed in 1926, its stated goal was to put an end to the activity of undercover bookmakers. From that point on, the government may issue booking licenses that would provide tight regulation of the gambling industry and, more significantly, the collection of taxes. Almost 200 years later, the system that was established by the Betting Act is still in effect. No matter whether they operate brick-and-mortar or virtual establishments, all bookmakers must visibly display their licenses.


Ireland did not establish a nationwide lottery because of this problem. In 1986, once the National Lottery Act was enacted, the lottery began operations. About 40% of all adults use Facebook regularly, proving its widespread popularity. Lotto, EuroMillions, bingo, raffles, scratch cards, and a host of other online and offline activities are all fair game. Since its inception, the State Lottery has donated almost €6 billion to a wide range of areas including conservation, healthcare, cultural preservation, education, and recreation.


Ireland, for its size, boasts a remarkably large number of brick-and-mortar casinos. Over twenty-five of them may be found in major cities including Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Wexford. The number of casinos is capped at 40, and establishments can have no more than 15 gaming tables in accordance with the 2013 Gambling Control Bill. These rules exist to ensure that no mega-casinos such as those in Las Vegas are permitted to open up shop in Ireland. Under the government’s tight rules, every major online casino is also available in Ireland.