Stewart Kenny loves gambling: he still gambles, he enjoys it and he thinks everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy it. But he thinks we should be more aware of the harm that problem gambling inflicts on people. Stewart Kenny, along with John Corcoran and David Power, founded Paddy Power bookmakers, so he knows what he's talking about. He told Claire Byrne that one of the aims Paddy Power had when it was formed in 1988, was to make gambling more mainstream, to take it off the back pages and onto the front pages. It turned out that getting there wasn’t that hard:
"To show how frontpage it became and how mainstream it became, in 2001/2, when we were leaving the Punt and switching to the Euro, Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy went down to a Paddy Power betting office and had a bet with the last Punt and it was all over the newspapers... I was trying to normalise gambling, but I would have to say, I now have to take responsibility – some responsibility – for this: it has been normalised too far, I think."
When he retired as a full-time bookmaker in 2016, Stewart qualified as a psychotherapist and a coach (he mainly spends his time these days coaching people with ADHD) and this led him to become more and more aware of what makes a product addictive:
"It is the speed between putting the bet on and the result and how quickly you can repeat it."
This realisation led Stewart to campaign against the introduction to Ireland of fixed-odds betting terminals which were being rolled out in the UK. He managed to secure some solid political backing for his opposition to these terminals, but he regrets that he didn’t anticipate online betting being a much bigger issue.
"The internet, by its nature, is quite addictive because it gets you into a zone and when you join that with gambling, there needs to be curbs."
Stewart believes that Ireland needs a regulator for the industry – but he’s not volunteering:
"I’m past my sell-by date, I wouldn’t be acceptable to the industry any longer and I don’t want to do it. And I don’t think I’m qualified to do it. I think you need somebody with international expertise. But if they go for a bureaucrat that ticks a lot of politically correct boxes, it won’t work."
And that brings us back to where we started: Stewart loves gambling. He believes there’s a place for an ethical gambling industry that’s properly regulated. He told Claire that a typical 18-year-old who signs up for an account with an online gambling company in order to place a bet on a horse or a favourite football team is, within a few days, offered free bets on roulette and similar casino games, which, he believes are much more addictive than traditional betting shop gambling activity.
"The casino is highly addictive. The online casino, online slots, are the crack cocaine of gambling."
Stewart Kenny has plenty of ideas for what powers the government should give a regulator – including making deposit limits mandatory – and you can hear them on his full conversation with Claire by going here.