In a recent interview with RTE’s Prime Time program, Stewart Kenny, one of the co-founders of international bookmaker Paddy Power, labelled gambling a ‘massive social problem’ due to increased mobilisation and regulatory shortcomings.
Kenny helped establish Paddy Power in 1988, having been a long-time fan of gambling as a pastime since placing a bet on Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and oversaw the firm’s expansion into the UK and Australian markets during his tenure as Chief Executive.
Following the ground-breaking merger of Paddy Power and Betfair in 2016, Kenny would resign as a board member of the FTSE100 company – but had warned executives of their duties on tackling gambling addiction.
The rise of online gambling and mobile betting, he argued, has turned gambling into a ‘major social problem’ by bringing into ‘every pocket,’ enabling people to bet anytime and anywhere.
“The internet was the explosion,” he said to the outlet. “In fairness to the industry, we didn’t realise how much it would take over people’s lives.”
Releasing an official statement, Paddy Power detailed that it had introduced substantial safer gambling initiatives and was a long-standing supporter of gaming regulations.
The operator detailed: “Much has changed in Paddy Power in recent years including establishing a full-time team dedicated to safer gambling, alongside investment in a predictive model to help identify the likelihood of someone suffering gambling related harm which enables communication and intervention.”
Continuing, the firm detailed that it had introduced initiatives such as: “Banning credit cards for online betting and gaming, a pre-watershed whistle-to-whistle advertising ban for live sport and the dedication of 1% of net gaming revenue (€3 million per year by 2023) to support research, education and treatment of people who have suffered gambling related harm in Ireland.”
Kenny, meanwhile, expressed ‘deep regret’ at not being ‘more proactive’ with regards to some of the major developments in the gambling industry in recent years, particularly concerning online casino gaming.
Noting that the frontal lobe of the brain – which controls impulses – is not fully developed until the age of 25 or 26, the former Executive showed concern over the promotion of these ‘highly addictive’ products to people under 25.
“I must take responsibility for some of the developments. I was part of it, and I have deep regrets that I was not more proactive,” he remarked.
Additionally, Kenny also lambasted governmental oversight of the gambling industry, arguing that successive Irish administrations over the past two decades have offered ‘no protection for the young and vulnerable’ due to lagging behind other countries in relation to regulation.
In its statement, Paddy Power added: “We haven’t always got it right regarding safer gambling, but we are committed to using evidence and innovation to do all we can to prevent problem gambling.”
Problem gambling has become a significant issue of public concern in Ireland over the past year, with a sweeping reform of the nation’s gambling laws a key objective of the government following the passage of the ‘interim Gaming and Lotteries Act’ in December 2020.
Meanwhile, in February the Irish Labour Party initiated draft legislation with the aim of banning gambling advertising, following calls from two of the country’s leading sports bodies – the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and Gaelic Players Association (GPA).