HomeGamblingGambling law should not ban incentives, says Flutter

Gambling law should not ban incentives, says Flutter

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Proposed new gambling laws should not include bans on bookies offering free bets and other incentives to their customers, according to Paul Edgecliff-Johnson, chief financial officer at Paddy Power owner, Flutter Entertainment.

The Irish gambling giant said on Tuesday that once-off, non-cash costs left it with a $1.2 billion (€1.1 billion) loss last year.

Speaking after it published the figures, Mr Edgecliff-Johnson said Flutter believed that the new gambling regulator should oversee incentives rather than having a ban “hard-wired” into a proposed law.

He noted that half a million customers here get free occasional free bets, with no adverse affects. “The regulator should be allowed to work out what’s best for Ireland,” he said.

The Gambling Regulation Bill, currently before the Oireachtas, makes it a criminal offence to offer “inducements” to people to “participate, or continue to participate, in a relevant gambling activity”.

Almost a third of respondents to a UK Gambling Commission survey in 2021 said free bets and bonuses “encouraged them to gamble more than they wanted to” while research by academics in Australia in 2017 found ads for “risk-free bets” much more persuasive than other types of bet to attract gamblers.

Mr Edgecliff-Johnson confirmed that the group had raised the issue with the regulator. He stressed that Flutter supported the legislation, but added that there were areas that needed “a little bit of further thought”.

The Government appointed Anne Marie Caulfield as chief executive designate of the proposed Gambling Regulatory Authority in 2022. The organisation will begin overseeing the industry once politicians pass the legislation.

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The industry largely supports the bill, which updates the Republic’s gambling laws, but some provisions, including a blanket advertising ban between 5am and 9pm, have sparked criticism.

Mr Edgecliff-Johnson said Flutter would remain headquartered and incorporated in the Republic, despite listing on the New York Stock Exchange this year. Shareholders will vote next month on plans to make Wall Street the main market for its equities.

The group employs 2,800 people here, split 50/50 between its betting shops and head office in Clonskeagh, Dublin. Its chief financial officer said it planned no major job losses, but noted that the business could shed some posts while hiring in other areas.

The group has closed several Paddy Power betting shops since 2022 as they had not recovered following the lifting of Covid lockdowns.

The gambling giant grew revenues by 25 per cent to $11.8 billion from $9.5 billion in 2022.

Charges of $1.68 billion left Flutter with a $1.2 billion loss. They included $725 million for the impairment of subsidiary Pokerstar’s trademark, $791 million for amortising intangible assets and $165 million to cover the cost of US group Fox’s option over shares in US division, Fanduel.

Flutter’s earnings before interest, tax and charges grew 45 per cent to $1.87 billion in 2023 from $1.29 billion the previous year, the group said.

Revenues rose 23 per cent from January 1st to March 17th. In the US, where Fanduel is its biggest subsidiary, turnover rose 55.6 per cent in that time, aided by record Super Bowl betting.

Flutter’s Irish and British businesses, Paddy Power, Betfair and Sky Betting and Gaming, handled 35 million bets through the four-day Cheltenham racing festival, which pits both countries’ best national hunt horses against each other.

Punters did well over the first two days, according to Mr Edgecliff-Johnson, but the group clawed back losses through the meeting’s second half to finish in the black.

Slade Steel, trained in Co Waterford by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by top jockey Rachael Blackmore, cost Flutter almost €3.5 million when it won the opener, the Supreme Novices Hurdle.

Stellar Story, trained in Co Meath by Gordon Elliott and ridden by rising star Sam Ewing, was a big winner for Flutter when it won the Albert Bartlett on the meeting’s final day, as few punters had backed it.

Chief executive Peter Jackson said this year had started well, with “good momentum” continuing into the first three months of 2024.

Flutter has businesses in multiple countries. It owns Paddy Power, Betfair, Sky Betting and Gaming, and Sportsbet in Australia among other companies.

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