Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

The approach to probe stocks by targeting investors has been tested for tobacco and oil. What’s the chance when it comes to gambling?

Three veterans in the industry have decided to try their luck and are pushing asset managers to put pressure on betting companies to change their ways.

Fintan Drury, former chairman of Paddy Power, teamed up with co-founder Stewart Kenny and Ian Armitage, who was managing director of Mercury Private Equity, Paddy Power’s first institutional investor to form Stop Gambling Harm, targeting fund managers in the UK and Ireland.

The men, who are no longer involved with Paddy Power – now part of Flutter – or gamble in any form, deny that they are only trying to calm their conscience after taking advantage of the industry.

“Legislators have shown that they are slow. It is the institutional owners who have the power, ”Drury said.

Drury is confident that the initiative is only in the early stages to talk to fund managers, as gambling will eventually become as toxic as tobacco to investors. Confronted with the “inevitable” prospect of class action cases, “it is in the owners’ own interest [to act]”, he said.

“I would like to think we are out of business in a year,” Drury added.

Ireland, with a large horse racing industry and a large sports fan base, has already had a pervasive gambling culture, with professional bookmakers in many main streets. But the problem has spread with online gambling. Ireland’s gamblers are making up the biggest losses per capita in the world and the government is review of decades-old gambling regulations. It promises that a long-delayed regulatory body will finally be in place by 2023.

“It’s long past the time the state should have addressed this issue,” said Aphra Kerr and John O’Brennan, professors at Maynooth University, and Lucía Vázquez Mendoza, a researcher at Dublin City University.a report. The gambling industry in Ireland was valued at almost € 5 billion in 2019 – or as much as € 8 billion if the national lottery was included.

In terms of regulation, academics have concluded that Ireland “is now further behind other EU states than at any time in recent decades” and that “coercion, rather than a convincing approach, is more likely to cause gambling damage. reduce”.

Eoin Coyne, who has not placed a bet in eight years, could no longer agree. He started betting on greyhound racing when he was 14, moving on to horses, football, hurling, Gaelic football and rugby, plus online poker.

At the height of his addiction, he blew up his week’s wage and once doubled the deposit on a rental property. “I had no money and no room for anything else,” Coyne, 33, said. “What I would like to see is the focus on responsibility that lies with gambling companies… It’s a David and Goliath battle for an ordinary person with a gambling problem.”

Fintan Drury, former chairman of Paddy Power, denies trying to ‘save his conscience’ © Bryan Meade

Advertising is one area where Stop Gambling Harm wants stricter rules. It also wants a mandatory separation between sports betting and online casino gambling so companies can not try to lure players to roulette games while waiting for the football result to come in. Ireland has some 30,000 people with a gambling problem, according to official data.

Stop Gambling Harm also wants stricter controls for under-25s and mandatory restrictions on how many players can spend. The Irish government says the independent regulator it plans to set up will “have powers to regulate advertising, gambling sites and applications”.

“I think it’s an interesting strategy,” said Barry Grant, project manager at External Problem Gambling, an advocacy and counseling group, referring to the lobbying campaign. “No industry can ever be trusted to regulate itself.”

According to H2 Gambling Capital, which monitors betting worldwide, Ireland was third in losses per capita in 2016. Data for 2020 show it has dropped to 14th, but the consultation said the picture was distorted by the pandemic and without it Ireland would probably be in placed the rankings. eighth to 10th.

Companies say they are addressing the issue proactively. Conor Grant, CEO of Flutter UK and Ireland, said his group was leading “significant change” in Ireland and planned to become the first operator to set mandatory spending limits for under-25s, as well as investing € 3 million a year by 2023. in research on addiction. , education and treatment.

Covid-19 fueled an increase in online gambling and an increase in female players in a male-dominated customer base.

The number of gamblers with Flutter, one of the world’s largest online gambling companies whose other brands include Sky Betting and Gaming, and Betfair, has increased by almost a fifth in the UK and Ireland. third quarter of 2021. Total revenue grew by 12 percent.

Coyne, who now works for a multinational medical equipment company, is worried that his “soccer-mad” seven-year-old son will eventually start noticing the betting shop’s ads on boxes around the field and on players’ shirts, two areas where the rules may be sharpened soon in the UK.

For Oisín McConville (46), a former Gaelic football star from Northern Ireland, who highest incidence of problem gambling in the UK, wearing a club shirt adorned with the logo of a new sponsor – a professional bookmaker – shortly after recovering from his 2006 addiction treatment was “demoralizing”.

Drury denies Stop Gambling Harm was set up to “save our conscience” after the three men’s successful careers in a controversial industry. But he acknowledged: “We were not alive enough for the impact that telephone gambling and internet gambling could have on society.”

McConville does not blame the bookmakers for his painful 15-year addiction. “But I look back now and think, in any other industry would this be allowed to happen?”

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