| 10.1°C Dublin

Hands-on owners directed firm's rapid expansion

CELTIC Bookmakers was founded as a hobby, but Ivan Yates and his wife Deirdre Boyd took a hands-on approach from the outset.

They opened their first shop in Tramore, Co Waterford, in 1987 and the betting group expanded slowly at first. Initial slow growth mushroomed with the onset of the economic boom.

As with many businesses, though, its demise went hand-in-hand with the downturn in the economy.

And while it never became a multi-billion euro company, its troubles are a cautionary tale of how rapid expansion right up to the onset of the recession has caught up with the former Fine Gael minister and his wife.

Even when signs that the boom was over, Celtic continued to expand. As recently as the end of 2007, the company acquired the Ubet chain of betting shops in a deal believed to be worth about €2.5m.

Ubet operates in the Limerick region and had about 30 staff when it was bought.

That acquisition was preceded by a much bigger deal -- the purchase of the Dublin-based Joe Molloy bookmakers in 2006 for an estimated €5m.

It also opened shops in Swansea and Bristol in Britain.


But as the recession crept in, the banks were forced to rethink their business plans, discretionary spending such as betting ended and many business owners were left scratching their heads as to where, and when, it all went wrong.

At this stage, though, it was too late for Celtic Bookmakers.

Mr Yates admitted yesterday that he and his wife made all the business decisions for Celtic until recently.

"It was a hands-on approach," he said. "We signed off on all the acquisition decisions."

The most recent accounts for the firm show that it had moved into the red in the late-2000s and losses had increased more than fourfold to just under €1.3m in 2009. It will report losses of more than €1.5m for the year ended July 2010.

A restructuring at the start of last year, including the closure of a number of shops and job losses, came too late. While the company is still bringing in thousands in revenues, these funds are not enough to cover debts and Allied Irish Banks wants its loans repaid.

The reality is that Mr Yates and his wife face bankruptcy.

Irish Independent