Declan Lynch

Saturday 26 July 2014

Poor betting odds on bookmakers handing back stolen money

Paddy Power has a responsible gambling policy – so why did a man lose €600,000 to it?

Declan Lynch

Published 01/06/2014|02:30

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GAMBLER: Tony O’Reilly lost €1.7m. Photo: Patrick Browne
GAMBLER: Tony O’Reilly lost €1.7m. Photo: Patrick Browne

He told them he had inherited the money. Ronan Crowley had already lost about €400,000 on his Paddy Power online account when the famously vigilant betting corporation decided that they needed to stop taking his bets and to ask him about the source of his funds.

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The true source was actually his employer, Boylesports, a major rival to Power in the betting game – Crowley was the manager of a Cork branch of Boylesports. But he told Paddy Power he had inherited the money, and there the matter rested for a while.

It rested so well, the €400,000 in losses would eventually become about €600,000, as Mr Crowley took the classic route of the chronically addicted gambler, hoping against hope that a few massive winners would make it all right, and he could start anew.

He might have been stopped sooner if Paddy Power had told Boylesports that one of their managers was betting every day as if it was his last. But that did not happen.

Which is strange, really, when you consider that Paddy Power has received industry awards for its Responsible Gambling policy, its stated determination to spot the slightest signs of addiction in its clientele, and to act swiftly. Its agents are said to be poised at all times, their attenae twitching when they observe anything that even vaguely suggests that one of their punters may have so much as a hint of a problem.

At which point the proverbial sirens start wailing and that punter's account is immediately shut down and he is directed towards the nearest counselling service with the best wishes of the corporation to begin that long road towards rehabilitation – or alternatively, in the famous case of Tony O'Reilly, the Gorey post office manager who gambled away €1.7m of his employer's money, he is invited to the Aviva stadium and the Curragh for a bit of corporate entertainment.

Perhaps that sense of "responsibility" has become just too great – whatever about its "responsibility" for its own issues, clearly Paddy Power felt that it couldn't be responsible for Boylesports too.

Judge Sean O'Donnabhain, in giving Mr Crowley a five-year suspended sentence, described it as "quite extraordinary" that Paddy Power "knew or suspected there was something wrong and had the accused as a monitored customer, and seemed to be slow in either reporting it or detecting it".

The failure of Boylesports to notice for two years that over half-a-million had been stolen from them, was "truly extraordinary".

It was a wise and a compassionate verdict all round, with the judge suspending the sentence completely and reserving much of his disdain for the corporate entities involved in this case, rather than the tormented individual.

But what is perhaps most extraordinary of all, is that the bookies seem to be under no obligation to give back any of that stolen money – even, as it happens, to another bookie.

Then again if I were a bookie, I would be reluctant to give it back, because I would have been expected to pay out if the punter had won.

And I would be just as reluctant to take it back, because I would be loath to set such a precedent.

For centuries, men who have made a few quid in unorthodox ways have shovelled it onto the horses and the dogs, happy enough to lose a percentage of it in exchange for the pleasure and the value of the transaction itself. Some call it money-laundering, others simply call it a sporting play.

Recent analyses have suggested that these practices have reached such astronomical levels, the entire global online gambling industry might fold like a cheap suit if the bookies were actually expected to give that money back.

It is indeed, as the man said, truly extraordinary.

Sunday Independent

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