Saturday 23 February 2019

Paddy Power now 'bigger than Jesus'

Not only do we bring the world books and music and plays, we are bringing betting and booze, writes Declan Lynch

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

We may have to look at this again. We may have to start tweaking that old line about Paddy's contribution to the world being mainly in the areas of literature and music and theatre and all those fine things.

Because with the recent merger of Paddy Power and Betfair, we are becoming a superpower of another kind, a global leader in the black arts of online gambling. And since Guinness and Jameson are still doing rather well in every part of the world in which people have money, we can see a different sort of pattern here.

By all means let us keep talking about all that the generic Paddy has done to elevate the human spirit with his books and his plays, but let us also stand in awe of what he is bringing to the party with his betting and his booze.

Be it the human consciousness or the human unconsciousness, it seems that Paddy has it all covered.

Indeed we may eventually understand how a country such as Iran feels when it is accused by irresponsible commentators of being "an exporter of terrorism" - in our case, in that vein of scattergun overstatement, Ireland might be called "an exporter of alcoholism and compulsive gambling". And by the way, we've sent out more than our fair share of the old terrorism too.

But what a thing this is, this mega-merger of Paddy Power and Betfair, making it the second-largest of all the online betting companies, keeping Paddy ahead of the game as always - according to one report, "analysts are betting on more mega-mergers".

So the "analysts" are betting on what the betting corporations will do next. And you're wondering why, from time to time, there's a little turbulence on the Dow, the FTSE and the Hang Seng?

Indeed I couldn't help noticing in a report on the China situation that about 1 in 30 people in China now owns equities. To which I hear you say: is that all?

Given that the Chinese have such a tradition of gambling, I thought it might be much higher, but no doubt that will come - a piece in the Los Angeles Times tells us that "many of the Chinese market's millions of middle-class investors treat the market as a sort of state-backed casino. An opaque, highly volatile mechanism only loosely tied to China's economic reality. And so far, many appear to see the recent turmoil as little more than a passing storm... a gambler will always return to gambling, so long as there's a table".

So in a world almost entirely consumed by betting, be it on the Chinese "state-backed casino" or the 2.30 at Uttoxeter, conditions are ideal for the rise of a Paddy Power, and they have been for some time - regulars readers of these pages will be familiar with our assertion that perhaps the two most challenging phenomena of our time are radical Islam and internet gambling.

And as far as the gambling goes, if John Lennon was still with us, he would be pointing out that Paddy Power is now "bigger than Jesus Christ".

Eventually no doubt it will be even bigger than Bet365, the overall leader of an industry in which these grand alliances are being formed, partly in response to the ominous approaches of taxation and regulation.

With the sluggishness of a 95-year-old man counting out his coins for a bet on the Derby, it has come to the attention of various governments that there may be some value in extracting a few modest taxes from this monstrously profitable industry, and perhaps even introducing a few light regulations in relation to what is, after all, a deeply addictive form of entertainment.

Already great fortunes have been made by the bookies in the lawless territories of the internet, and they have been lucky too in the prevailing economic culture which, for example, sees the Tories elected again in Britain - a party which would be in no hurry to overdo the old "red tape", given their natural bias in favour of the money-men, against the common good.

With that lethal combination of corporate ruthlessness and shameless eejitry, Paddy Power/Betfair will no doubt be fancying a takeover of China in the medium to long term going forward, a market in which Jesus Christ himself, for all his virtues, did not enjoy success.

Though there was some confusion for investors last week, with reports that the authorities in Beijing had started a "stock market crackdown". Usually the juxtaposition of the words "stock market", and "crackdown" would send waves of joy all across the western world, but in this case it turned out they were only cracking down on those who had "spread seditious rumours", which had "caused panic, misled the public and resulted in disorders in stock market or society".

Which would seem, from a distance, to be a crackdown on the wrong people, a bit like responding to the Irish banking crisis by rounding up David McWilliams, Richard Curran and Morgan Kelly.

But for all these global uncertainties, there are some things of which we can be sure - Paddy Power will always be there, and Arthur Guinness too, making everything just a little bit better, and then, for some, making everything just a little bit worse.

These are Paddy's gifts to the world, and right now, the world can't get enough.

Sunday Independent

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