Belfast Telegraph

Racing body accounts: probe call

A spending watchdog has been urged to probe the accounts of Horse Racing Ireland over claims spending is out of control.

The Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA) said the amount of money spent by the governing body mushroomed in 10 years without any obvious benefit to the racing and betting sectors.

It claimed HRI expenditure jumped by 40% more than its total income between 1998 and 2008, while the chief executive's salary increased by more than 50% in six years.

Sharon Byrne, IBA chair, demanded a value-for-money investigation by the Dail Public Accounts Committee and claimed HRI must wake up to the economic realities facing the country.

"The inaction, complacency and dependency on state funding that characterise the HRI are no longer acceptable from a state body with so many potential income-generating sources available," Ms Byrne said. "The IBA believes that all spending must deliver real and tangible benefits for Ireland's racing and betting sector, and that common sense reforms are urgently needed."

The IBA commissioned accountancy firm KPMG to go through the annual reports of HRI and its predecessor the Irish Horseracing Authority between 1998 and 2008. The investigation found administration costs, including pension and payroll, rocketed 5.6 million euro, or 660% in the decade. HRI's spending on marketing jumped 2.1 million euro, or 112%, yet attendance at race meetings had only increased 14% by 2008.

The IBA said the salary of chief executive Brian Kavanagh increased by 56.6% in the 10 years and by 22% between 2007 and 2008. Mr Kavanagh earned 313,000 euro in 2008, according to HRI's annual report.

The bookmakers said HRI Racecourses Group's operating costs increased by 216% between 1998 and 2008 and 73% between 2005 and 2008. And the IBA claimed contributions to prize money soared 600% yet the number of race fixtures increased by a third.

Ms Byrne said excessive prize monies for the top tier of races needed to be spread out to provide more racing opportunities for the smaller trainers and race schedules need to be reformed. And she said the race track in Dundalk should not be closed for the winter.

The IBA said a Freedom of Information request to HRI for access to accounts, budgets and business plans at the organisation were refused.

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