A BOOKMAKER has won a High Court test case challenging Dundalk Stadium’s requirement that he pay €8,000 as a capital contribution to the €35m redevelopment of the venue in 2007.
Francis Hyland claimed this was a “levy” which the stadium had no right to impose under rules governing bookies’ “pitches” at racecourses.
However, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan also ruled that a boycott by some bookies over the introduction of the fee was “seriously anti-competitive”, in breach of the law and should end immediately.
Mr Hyland had sought a declaration that Dundalk Racing (1999) Ltd, trading as Dundalk Stadium, had failed to comply with Association of Irish Racecourse “pitch rules” which had established a scheme of seniority where a bookie could set up his stall on a racecourse. The more senior bookmakers have pitches nearer racecourse amenities like the parade ring or the bar where punter footfall is higher, the court heard.
Mr Hyland claimed Dundalk Stadium unilaterally decided the seniority provision would no longer apply from 2007, following the redevelopment. It meant pitches would only be allocated on payment of an €8,000 “levy” which amounted to the racecourse selectively choosing rules which suit its own purposes, he claimed.
He argued the seniority of his pitch meant it could be sold as a valuable asset and was something akin to a pension for a bookie.
His was a test case for 31 similar actions by other bookies.
Dundalk Stadium denied his claims and argued that as theirs was a new racecourse, the first all-weather racetrack in Ireland, and only registered as such after August 2007, it was not governed by pitch rules. This was confirmed by a tribunal set up to deal with the matter, it said.
It counter-claimed Mr Hyland and other bookmakers unlawfully picketed and boycotted the racecourse which amounted to an unlawful interference with Dundalk Stadium’s economic interests and the distortion of competition.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Hogan ruled that while it was undoubtedly true the racecourse and its facilities were unrecognisable from when the venue was closed in 2001 and then redeveloped, there was nonetheless “clear continuity in terms of ownership, location, track and tradition.”
Dundalk remained in substance the same course as it was in 2001, at least in the sense contemplated by the pitch rules, he said. Dundalk had no entitlement to demand bookies pay an €8,000 capital contribution as a condition to taking up a pitch at the new stadium, he said.
He did not find the pitch rules violated the Competition Act 2002. The rules were, generally speaking, pro-competitive in their objective and effect. The essential contestability of the on-course bettering market is maintained because of the option for bookies to sell their seniorities, he said.
The protests by the bookies in 2007, while fully protected by constitutional guarantees of free speech and peaceable assembly, was behaviour which was “seriously anti-competitive”, he said.
He accepted evidence the boycott had seriously damaged competition at Dundalk and ultimately adversely affected consumer welfare in that racegoers were obliged to pay higher prices for on-course betting.
He was prepared to grant an injunction directed a named persons from continuing the boycott and adjourned that matter to next month.