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Paddy Power: Growing up in betting let me take job gamble


Maggie Armstrong and Paddy Power

Maggie Armstrong and Paddy Power

Super Miss Sue

Super Miss Sue

The receipt for lunch in Super Miss Sue

The receipt for lunch in Super Miss Sue


Maggie Armstrong and Paddy Power

'I've been here since nine o'clock this morning I'm so excited", Paddy Power greets me from the leatherette booth in loud, extravagant Super Miss Sue, a new fish joint.

The eponymous bookmaker and great-grandson of the founder of Paddy Power has chosen a restaurant that reflects his personality. You can't hear the Talking Heads or the Daft Punk music, but you should get a sense of Paddy from the photograph: punchy, smart, amplified.

This being Dublin, what are the odds I know Paddy? That's right, high. I have met Paddy (and all the Powers) through his younger sister Tessa. So it isn't too scandalous when, doing the 'will I, won't I, will you?' motions over the 'wines by the glass', Paddy says: "sure we might as well get a bottle." "I don't usually drink at lunchtime", he sheepishly adds. He orders the monkfish special and I throw in my lot (sorry again) with whole roast gambas.

Paddy, 39, joined Paddy Power in 1996 as an odds compiler. His brother Willie is a partner in their father's on-course bookmakers, Richard Power.

The business is so far patrilineal; Tessa is an artist in London, Shanni is a solicitor married to a sheep farmer in Scotland.

Paddy studied Business and German at DCU and considered becoming a vet but found he liked bets more. He now looks after "the VIPs" and is the face of the multi-national which has its HQ in Dublin's Clonskeagh: "basically glory boy", he says.

He is the PR spokesman, and one of the brains behind their infamous novelty bets. The most controversial of these was earlier this year, when Paddy Power (the company) took bets on the outcome of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial.

"Did you like it?" Paddy asks, and a Cheshire cat grin actually spreads on his face. I tell him I was surprised by it.

The 'Oscar Time' ad, which featured an Academy Award statuette with Pistorius' face and the slogan 'Money back if he walks', generated the most complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority ever. It sparked a Joe Duffy programme and a petition from a British charity.

"We were amazed, not in a good way," says Paddy of the "talkability" around the banned ad.

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"The reason we bet on it was because it was the highest-profile media trial – certainly one of the biggest media stories of the year. Everyone was speculating. I totally understand if people think it's in bad taste, that's fine. That's subjective," he says.

I ask whether they would have bet on the outcome of an Irish murder trial. "No", he says.

Can distance make a fun-loving company like Paddy Power forget the ethics of their campaigns? Paddy nods, "You forget there's real people behind it", but continues defending the ad. He has "huge sympathy" for the families involved in the trial, but the news dictated that decision.

He pulls out their novelty vinyl sleeve Annual Report and tells me about 'Rainbow Shoelaces'. Paddy Power noticed that not one of 5,000 footballers in the UK was openly gay, and distributed rainbow shoelaces to players asking them to support diversity.

Back to Pistorius. Did they go too far? "There is a line that you don't cross. You do sometimes go close to that line. With Oscar Pistorius we definitely knew we were on the right side of that line," he says.

"Some of the edgy stuff we do is dangerous. We like testing boundaries. You do want to get some 'Jaysus, how did they get away with that' reaction'."

Paddy Power (the company) has always broken the rules. They wouldn't even be here without an edge of misdeed, I learn, as Paddy launches into a rapid-fire history of its origins.

In 1896 his great-grandfather, Richard Power, worked in a drapery store in Tramore, Co Waterford. He was often sent to the illegal bookie to place bets for his employers.

"He copped on that he was never sent out to collect the proceeds, so instead he used to go out and have a smoke and keep the money," says Paddy.

One day, he met his boss at the Tramore races when he should have been at work.

Instead of returning to the dull job, "he pulled up a tea chest, started shouting the odds, and became a bookie from that day forward. He was an amazing character."

Richard Power passed the chain to his son Paddy, who died suddenly, leaving the business with his wife Bunty and their 16-year-old son, David Power – this Paddy's father. Paddy Power is now among the top four betting companies in the world and opens one shop a week in the UK alone.

Paddy holds fast to the line that betting is about entertainment. "It's not like the lottery. The chances are you're going to lose money but you're going to enjoy yourself," he says. They offer an "intricate" level of support for problem gambling, from 24-hour cooling-off periods to GamCare counselling.

"If there's one bad thing about our brand, that's what it is unfortunately. Our brand is all about fun, and that's not very much fun."

Isn't sport fun enough? "You put a tenner on the match, you'll enjoy the match more. If you have a problem, it's up to you to tell Paddy Power, not Paddy Power to tell you. We're not addiction counsellors, we don't diagnose," he says.

"Ultimately it's the customers themselves who will decide if they have a problem and we will have empowered them to make the right decision."

When Paddy started he was "marking the boards" in betting shops. In 2000 the "real game changer", online betting, came in. "This became a way that you could market yourself to the masses," says Paddy enthusiastically.

"A lot of people would bet on the go."

Now, thanks to smartphones and the Paddy Power app, it brings in 79pc of their revenue. But how is it entertaining to bet online, alone?

Paddy lists the benefits, which I won't list here. He is clearly an excitable sports fan. Does he bet himself? "I bet most days. I really enjoy it. I love going to a betting shop, that's where I grew up."

What does he do with the proceeds? "If I win a few quid I'd probably blow it on a night out – I should probably say buy a present for my wife, but she'll be reading this going 'I haven't had a present for years'", says the father of four.

He paints a lovely, romantic picture of betting shops. "You meet so many different people in a betting shop. There's a real sense of community.

"Most people are very helpful, and people tend to be very patient. There'd be cups of tea going back and forth, someone might come in and bring you a bar of chocolate."

Paddy is lunching with someone who has always considered betting shops as vice dens and worse, ones in which women are not welcome. Stopping in a Paddy Power on the way from lunch, I counted 16 men and two women, and there was little camaraderie.

"You obviously think that all gambling is bad," Paddy probes. He asks what the difference is between online gambling and online shopping, and I say they're all the same to me.

We discuss the bravura of the betting world. "You would consider it quite a male industry, wouldn't you?" he agrees.

Women traditionally "weren't punters" but like his grandmother Bunty, they were considered "discreet" people.

I wonder if he's seen anything through his work that made him sad. "When I see my horse fall at the last, that's quite sad," he deadpans.

"People wise? Yeah, any time you get somebody who has a problem with gambling, that's sad."

Paddy Power knows the socio-economic circumstances of its clients "as much as we can".

Has the scion had direct contact with a gambling addict? "I've spoken to people, I've gone through the full GamCare training."

He finds it affecting when people lose control "in any way" but concludes, "addiction is a medical condition, hopefully they can get help and move on".

Lucky Powers. If a pin-up for gambling exists, he is it. His workplace is, he says, "really young, busy, hungry and vibrant".

He is so deep in Paddy Power discourse that I forget to ask him about the "mid-life crisis", he said at the beginning of lunch he was heading for, at 39.

That he shares the brand name perhaps makes it easier for him to answer personal questions with "we". But underneath the starry-eyed persona, he has a touch of his sister Tessa about him and of, well, an unorthodox bookie like his ancestor.

I can't resist asking if he hopes his kids, little Patrick (8), Jamie (6), Cillian (4) and baby Annabelle, will come and work with dad.

"They'll make their own decisions when they get much bigger," he says. "I'd like them to be good at maths, I think maths is very important. The jobs that are hard to fill are very maths-based."

He insists on paying the bill.

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