Former Paddy Power Chief Executive Stewart Kenny and Chairman Fintan Drury have called for changes to oversight of the betting and gaming industry in Ireland, as the country moves forward with legislation to introduce an industry regulator.
As reported by The Times, the duo – along with Ian Armitage, the former director of the now Flutter Entertainment-owned bookmaker’s first financial backer Mercury Asset Management – have launched the Stop Gambling Harm Now initiative.
The trio’s decision comes as political developments in Ireland mirror their British counterparts on the opposite side of the Irish Sea, with the introduction of an ‘extremely powerful’ industry regulatory authority in discussion since the passage of the ‘Interim Gaming and Lotteries Act’.
Last week, the regulatory overhaul moved another stage closer to completion as measures were tabled before the Irish Cabinet, whilst Minister of State for Justice James Browne outlined that the new body’s powers will include the ability to revoke or suspend gambling licences, freeze player accounts and block payments to operators.
There have also been calls for greater restrictions on betting and gaming advertising in the country. A number of sporting and political stakeholders have criticised or called for bans on betting commercials during sports events, or even wider forms, including President Michael Higgins, the Irish Labour Party, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), Gaelic Players Association (GPA) and College of Psychiatrists of Ireland.
As representatives and ministers move forward with their legislative changes, according to the times Kenny believes that legislators on both sides of the Irish sea have been slow to address the impact of gambling related harms, and argues that owners should have a greater say.
He shared his belief that the lack of legislative action is due to “the tax revenues and wider economic considerations involved in calling an industry of such scale into line”, whilst also asserting the need for a safer gambling message.
“The message needs to be sustained,” he explained. “Politicians are the first line of defence for society’s well-being so there can be no let-up in keeping this issue front of the political mind in any democracy where requisite controls are not in place.”
Drury, meanwhile – who during his tenure as Chairman from 2002 to 2008 oversaw a major expansion of Paddy Power’s online and mobile betting operations and social-media based marketing, as the gambling industry in general increasingly shifted online – said that “stemming the growth of 24/7 gambling is the tallest of tall orders” in his newly published book See-Saw.
“It’s not easy to challenge some fundamentals of an industry where you once had a leadership role,” he wrote. “It leaves you exposed to the hypocrisy charge but the evidence of a global increase in problem gambling is incontrovertible, so if you understand its source and don’t trust the industry, then it seems important to highlight the problem.”
Despite the comments of the former CEO and Chairman, incumbent Flutter Entertainment Chief Executive Conor Grant has highlighted the FTSE100 gambling group’s ‘ongoing commitment’ to responsible betting and safer gambling.
New measures introduced by the firm earlier this year include a ban on credit card payments, a reduction of its deposit limit for online gamblers under 25 to €500, a whistle-to-whistle ban on TV advertising during sports broadcasts – a requirement of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) in the UK – and membership of the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA).
The CEO has further welcomed the legislative changes introduced by Irish ministers, stating that the update to the country’s betting and gaming laws dating back to 1931 and 1956 provides an opportunity to create “a world-class regulatory authority for sports betting and gaming”.
For Armitage however, whose company brought Paddy Power onto the stock market in 1998, the largest and most successful investors have adopted social responsibility initiatives to address risk concerns and assist with the development of a “more sustainable future for economies and society”.
“It is not clear to me that the gambling industry understands the desire of these owners or the litigation risks they’re creating for their shareholders as yet another youngster gets addicted to gambling,” he told The Times.