Business Irish

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Gambler and bookie with a flair for highly unusual bets

Pat Boyle

Published 06/09/2003 | 00:11

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STEWART Kenny, the principal founder, former chief executive and recently resigned chairman of bookmaker Paddy Power, this week sold 1.2m shares worth ?7.27m and transferred another 400,000 of his holding to family members, leaving him with just 259,832 shares in the company he helped found.

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If you needed possible evidence of the changing of the guard at Paddy Power, it came in the wake of the recent Cork versus Wexford hurling match.

A disgruntled punter phoned Pat Kenny to air her grievance at not being paid a bet which she claimed she was entitled to.

In the case in question, the 33/1 odds available on the first scorer in the match was written on the docket, and not a 33/1 for the first goal scorer, quite a different thing.

When the player scored a point, the punter had assumed her bet was a winning one and when the bookie refused to pay, she aired her grievance on Pat Kenny's radio show, with the broadcaster allowing her plenty of time to vent her spleen.

Pat Kenny mentioned the unpaid bet again the following day, and it was only later in the week that a spokesman for Paddy Power got on the air to give the firm's reasons for not paying.

It seems amazing that Paddy Power let this one run almost unchallenged for so long. Even more amazing when you consider that the current chairman, Fintan Drury, is a public relations guru.

Would it have happened in Stewart Kenny's time? One wonders! Kenny's earliest experience of the bookmaking business dates back to his days as a pupil at Glenstal Abbey in Limerick.

His first big killing came in 1964 and, like all good gambling stories, relates to the Grand National.

Kenny cleaned up on the race won by 50/1 shot Anglo in 1966 and he fondly recalls how he won 100pc on this particular book.

Kenny himself had launched his career with Ladbrokes, a far cry from the career which his father had mapped out for him.

The Supreme Court judge had hoped his son would study the Classics.

It was at Ladbrokes that Kenny learned the value of the novelty bet, and when he launched his own business in 1974 he saw an opportunity in the crisis which was quickly embroiling the American President, Richard Nixon.

Kenny offered odds of 4/1 on 'Tricky Dickie' resigning. This was the first, he says, in a long line of losing political books. But as Kenny well understood, it was not the winning or losing that mattered with these bets.

The simple fact is that they transfer the story from the sports to the news page - and the bookmaker's name with them.

As well as offering some fun and the occasional diversion from the politik at election time, they have helped propel the Paddy Power chain to the top in the Irish market.

Kenny himself had traded as Stewart Kenny and later as Kenny O'Reilly, the business which he sold out to Corals in 1986. Selling on a Friday, he was back in business on a Monday - the only stipulation in the deal was that he could not open up within half a mile of the old shop.

The 1980s were a tumultuous time in the Irish betting market, with the arrival of big British players such as Corals, Ladbrokes and Stanley Racing.

Seeing no major Irish brand in the market, Kenny saw and took his opportunity.

Joining forces with John Corcoran's Patrick Corcoran chain and the Richard Power chain of David Power, he forged a 40-shop group which commanded an 8pc share of the betting shop market.

In the face of the onslaught from Britain, the name 'Paddy Power' was appropriate, playing on the patriotic instincts of those punters who wanted to lose their money with an Irish firm.

The flotation of Paddy Power in early 2000 marked the culmination of 12 years' hard work, and in hindsight it should not have been a surprise that Kenny decided to bow out so soon after the float.

He has amassed a considerable amount of wealth, but if his pronouncements are to be believed, his priorities lie elsewhere.

He has donated a substantial block of shares to a charitable trust and his focus has shifted away from the hurly-burly of the bookmaking business.

Recently he has trained as a counsellor, a radical change in direction for a successful business figure.

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