Last week I had an interesting exchange of views with the Paddy Power organisation. As the holder of an online betting account (which shows a modest profit at the time of writing) you could say that I've had a long-running conversation with Paddy, in our endless pursuit of fun.
But then there's more to life than fun. And last week's exchange had a more sober aspect than usual, for reasons which will become clear. It consisted of emails sent by me to their media guy, Feilim Mac An Iomaire, and his response on behalf of Paddy Power. My opening email went something like this:
You may be aware that recently in the Sunday Independent I wrote about the case of Tony O'Reilly, the An Post manager in Gorey currently serving four years (one year suspended) in the Midlands prison for stealing approximately €1.75m from his employer in order to fund his gambling with your organisation. I suggested that perhaps Paddy Power might feel some moral obligation to return that stolen money. I am not aware of any further action on the issue so I am putting a number of questions:
1. Since it has been established that the money lost by Tony O'Reilly was stolen from his employer An Post, leaving aside the legalities about money laundering etc, does Paddy Power feel a moral responsibility to return this money?
2. It has also been established that Tony O'Reilly was a guest of Paddy Power at sporting events, including the Europa League final. While Mr O'Reilly now accepts full responsibility for his actions and for his own addiction, again does Paddy Power feel a moral responsibility for encouraging that addiction?
3. As part of the company's responsible gambling policy, agents are supposedly trained to recognise signs of addiction – yet this man with an "ordinary" job had an account with a vast turnover stretching into millions. At what point did Paddy Power agents recognise that Mr O'Reilly might have a problem? And is Paddy Power continuing to entertain clients in this way?
4. I am informed by a reader that he made a profit on his Paddy Power online account of between €5,000 and €8,000 two years running. And that as a result he had a limit put on his potential winnings. Thus when he tried to have €50 on a horse at 6/1, he was only allowed to have 13.40 on it. Can Paddy Power confirm that it applies such limits in certain cases?
5. Though such limits seem to apply to punters who win, the case of Mr O'Reilly suggests that there are no such limits for punters who lose. How does this square with Paddy Power's responsible gambling policy?"
The reply from the Power Tower came at noon the next day, and it went like this:
"Paddy Power's policy is not to comment on any individual cases or on any investigation with which we have been involved."
Ah lads, I thought to myself. If you don't comment on "individual" cases, what sort of cases do you comment on? So I put two more questions, of a general nature:
1. What is Paddy Power's policy in relation to punters' money which is later shown to be the proceeds of crime?
2. Does Paddy Power impose limits on potential winnings or losses?
About 48 hours later, they got back to me:
1. Paddy Power takes its responsibilities regarding potential and actual criminal activity very seriously. We liaise closely and comprehensively with the authorities on all such issues and from time to time assist in investigations. It is a long standing policy not to comment on specifics or in general on any issues whatsoever relating to criminal activity.
2. We apply appropriate risk controls across our channels. Our risk management systems are proprietary, commercially sensitive and we are therefore not in a position to discuss them.
Ah lads. . . Ah lads. . . given all the fun we've had together over the years, I guess I was hoping for something a bit more like this from the Tower of Power:
"Thanks Buddy, for that bit of tough love. Of course you're right and what the hell were we thinking of, not giving back all that money? How could we not have seen this perfect opportunity both to do good and to look good?
"We gave the punters a refund when Thierry Henry did us down, proving that we regard justice as a higher thing than mere rules and technicalities. Cheers mate, for opening our eyes on this one."
Instead they give me the corporate line. But I'm not giving up on Paddy Power. One more time, I say: give back that 1.75 million, Paddy. And maybe throw in another 1.75 million. For luck.