For a lot of Irish people, their first visit to a betting shop is nothing short of a rite of passage.
A lot of Irish folks go into a betting shop for the first time with a family member, perhaps to place a wager on a major event such as the Grand National, and it becomes a habit from there.
Even though online betting has become a lot more popular in recent years - especially when the COVID-19 pandemic forced betting shops to close their doors - a lot of us still like to visit shops.
For many people, there is nothing quite like a trip to the local betting shop. There is usually great craic between the regulars and the chance to watch live sports such as horse racing.
Those who do not have a lot of experience in betting shops might be unsure about how they work, the history of betting shops and which are the best betting shops in Ireland to go to.
Our complete guide to betting shops in Ireland has all the details, so read on for the full details.
Gambling has long been a popular pastime in Ireland and before the rise of online betting sites over the course of the past decade or so, the best way to place a wager was by going to a physical betting shop, which are on a lot of high streets in towns and cities across the island.
Chariot racing took place in Ireland as long ago as the third century AD, but it took until around the 16th and 17th centuries until organised horse racing - and betting on the outcome - started to become more widespread. Initially, betting on racing was the preserve of the gentry classes.
King Charles II is credited with responsibility for the rise in interest in horse racing betting in the 17th century, having encouraged the formation of endowed Royal Plates, races that were attended by vast crowds. Innkeepers and publicans then became the first bookmakers.
Ireland was where the idea of "steeplechasing" was invented, with horses having to jump over obstacles during the race, but through these early years in both the UK and in Ireland, horse racing betting remained unregulated.
Gaming in public houses was then banned, which led to the foundation of the first betting shops. Changes to the gambling laws - the Gambling Act in 1845 and then the Suppression of Betting Houses Act in 1853 - affected the industry's growth, though.
Betting shops were then licensed by the Irish Free State Government in 1926 and a few years later the government also passed the Totaliser Act. Nowadays, it is quite rare to see smaller, independent high street betting shops with most of them belonging to one of the large chains.
It is estimated that there are now around 800 betting shops in Ireland, but it remains to be seen how the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with more online betting, affects this figure in the future.
Although betting online is now the default for a lot of sports fans in Ireland, they still have a wide choice to pick from if they would like to visit a physical betting shop in order to place a wager.
Here is our full guide to the main options when it comes to selecting a betting shop in Ireland:
Arguably the biggest betting brand in Ireland, Boylesports was set up around 40 years ago by a man named John Boyle, who opened his first shop in Markethill, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland. Boylesports opened its 250th shop in Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, in 2018 and has aggressively expanded, buying out other Irish betting brands such as Celtic Bookmakers and Tully Bookmakers in recent years.
The deal for Tully saw Boylesports buy out the chain's remaining 10 shops in 2021, ending the firm's 44-year history of running betting shops in Ireland - it once ran as many as 37 betting shops but had been gradually scaling back that figure. Boylesports continued its growth when it officially became Ireland's biggest retail bookmaker in 2020 as the company completed the acquisition of 33 William Hill shops, for which it paid an estimated €18 million.
Following that blockbuster deal, Boylesports was reported to have more than 300 betting shops throughout the island of Ireland. Boylesports is the sponsor of the Irish Greyhound Derby as well as various sporting events such as horse races in Ireland.
Another bookmaker with its roots in Ireland, Paddy Power was first established in 1988 and has gone on to become one of the world's top betting brands. Paddy Power was created by a merger of three Irish bookmakers - Stewart Kenny, David Power, and John Corcoran - and it now runs about 600 locations in the UK and Ireland.
Paddy Power is now part of global giant Flutter Entertainment following a merger with Betfair a few years ago, but its betting shops are still a common sight across Ireland.
Founded by William Hill all the way back in 1934, this is one of the world's most historic betting brands. William Hill - often referred to as Hills - made a big move into Ireland in 2005 when it paid over £500 million for hundreds of betting shops from Stanley Leisure. William Hill once had more than 50 betting shops in Ireland but has sold off many of them to rival Boylesports as part of its increasing focus on online betting.
Another global gambling giant, Ladbrokes runs thousands of betting shops around the world, with a significant number of them on the island of Ireland. In 2021, Ladbrokes made headlines when it opened the doors of what it termed the "betting shop of the future" in Dublin. The shop's features include an array of digital screens to provide a much more futuristic feel than the typical betting shop located on an Irish high street.
Some independent betting shops in Ireland still remain operational, but the vast majority of the 800 or so betting shops in the country are now owned and operated by the above four firms.
It goes without saying that there are significant differences between betting at a shop online. Those who have got used to betting online, perhaps via mobile betting apps, might find it strange to visit betting shops in Ireland now, but a lot of people still prefer to do their betting in person.
Younger people may view betting shops as a relic, with these stores seeming to be irrelevant now that most Irish adults have a device like a smartphone from which they can bet easily. But for older people, there is still nothing quite like a trip to the betting shop, which might result in a pocket full of cash if they have been lucky enough to win a wager on the day's racing action. It is worth remembering that not everybody always likes to use the internet for everything. Many may feel more comfortable betting in person at a betting shop, where they get to speak to people face to face, which can be a far better experience if they need to access customer service.
Betting shops have also been described as a community hub. For a lot of people who visit betting shops in Ireland, part of the attraction of doing so is that they provide a unique social experience. They are a space where sports fans can get together and watch the big sporting events of the day, including top racing action from across the UK and the island of Ireland.
Traditionalists still view betting shops as the best way to place wagers. Indeed, visiting a betting shop is still widely seen as being a rite of passage for a lot of young adults. It can be seen as akin to buying a lottery ticket for the first time, with many people visiting a betting shop for the first time with a family member, perhaps to bet on a major event such as the Grand National.
Gambling giants such as Paddy Power and Boylesports - both of which have their roots in Ireland - offer their customers a choice between betting online and visiting a betting shop. What this means in practice is that there is no real need to pick between going to a betting shop in person or using the internet to bet. It is possible to do both - but here are the pros and cons.