Bookmaker wants to challenge rule change which he claims impacts 'seniority rights' to lucrative on-course pitches

By Ann O'Loughlin

The High Court is to decide whether a bookmaker has any legal standing to challenge a change to rules which he says has affected his seniority rights to lucrative premium on-course bookies' pitches.

Brian Graham, a member of the Sean Graham bookmakers family business, claims the 2016 rule change, under an agreement between the Irish National Professional Bookmakers Association (INPBA) and the Association of Irish Racing (AIR), meant he could no longer avail of a seniority right which he enjoyed.

Those "Racecourse Executives' Seniority and Pitch Rules" provide that each bookmaker holding a seniority at a particular racecourse is offered the opportunity to apply for a premium position, with applicants graded according to seniority.

Where seniorities are equal, there is a draw for the premium areas where racegoers can make a bet while having a meal and a drink.

Mr Graham has brought his case over the new rule against Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), the statutory body which oversees the industry and also collects fees for the pitches at racecourses.

It is also against the Pitch Tribunal, a body set up between the INPBA and AIR to deal with disputes, and which rejected Mr Graham's objections to the rule change. The INPBA and AIR are notice parties.

On Tuesday, Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy invited submissions from the sides in relation to whether Mr Graham has legal standing ) to bring the challenge before she decides whether to hear the main case.

This was in circumstances where the HRI and the Pitch Tribunal argued that Mr Graham is not the holder of the on-course permit, but his mother Brenda Graham is and he, therefore, has no standing to bring the challenge.

Mr Graham, along with other members of the Graham family, are nominated to represent their mother, who the court heard, had "never set foot" on a racecourse.

Mel Christle SC, for Mr Graham, argued the new pitch rules brought in in 2016 were not properly adopted and were therefore invalid. When the Pitch Tribunal heard Mr Graham's complaint, one of the three tribunal members bookies' association representative, Francis Hyland, gave evidence in relation to the passing of the rule change.

"He was giving evidence on his own behalf and then making a decision on the issue with another hat on", counsel said. This was in breach of natural and constitutional justice, counsel said.

Mr Hyland, who represented the association in court, denied the claim. He stood over evidence he had given in a 2013 case in which he outlined the relationship between the bookies, the racecourse operators and the HRI.

Kelley Smith BL, for the HRI, said Mr Graham's case was "entirely misconceived".

He did not have the standing to bring the case because the permit was in his mother's name and it was she who had the economic interest in these proceedings. Mr Graham had never pointed to anything that would affect his economic or personal interests.

Ms Smith said the pitch rules are in now force and nominated Graham family representatives have attended race meetings.

Brian Graham himself had done so on one occasion at Punchestown - so he had already "taken the benefit" of the rules he now complains of, she said.

The case comes back again for mention in two weeks.

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