Paddy Power Owner Hires Former MP Who Once Called it a "Dirty" Business

By Martin Green20 September 2020
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Paddy Power Owner Hires Former MP Who Once Called it a "Dirty" Business

Paddy Power Betfair owner Flutter Entertainment has hired former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson as an advisor on safer gambling policies. Watson was outspoken in his criticism of the gambling industry during his time as an MP. He once described Paddy Power as “dirty” and “money-grabbing” after it started taking bets on the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. He will now work with Flutter – which also owns Sky Bet, FanDuel, Fox Bet and Poker Stars – on staff training, marketing and safer gambling operations. “I have a long-standing interest in this sector and consistently called for action to protect those that may be potentially vulnerable to harm,” said Watson, who stepped down as Jeremy Corbyn’s deputy last year. “In taking on this role in Flutter, I intend to get under the bonnet of the business – and the industry more widely – to understand how best to further develop and implement industry leading responsible gambling policies. I strongly believe that working collaboratively with Flutter in this way will allow me to continue to drive positive change.”

Shares in William Hill jumped this week after it tied up a deal for its odds to be featured on ESPN. The London-listed firm has partnered with Caesars Entertainment as it sets out on an ambitious expansion drive in the US, and market analysts are impressed with the momentum it is gaining. “ESPN is one of the pre-eminent brands in sports,” said chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson. “Tens of millions of fans will now have a direct link to our sports betting apps and odds. Giving ESPN users this access will accelerate our leadership as we continue to expand in the US.” Deutsche Bank said William Hill’s partnership with Caesars had taken “a big step forward” following the announcement. “We see this deal with ESPN as potentially transformational for William Hill's positioning in the nascent US sports betting market,” said the analysts, who also reiterated their “buy” rating on the stock.

Ladbrokes cut the odds on Tom Hardy becoming the next James Bond from 8/1 to just 4/5 this week. It followed a flurry of bets on the star of The Dark Knight Rises, Revenant and Venom. Daniel Craig has already said that No Time To Die, which is out this year, will be his final outing as 007. He took the role back in 2006, when he starred in Casino Royale, and it is time for him to pass the torch. Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Richard Madden, James Norton and Cillian Murphy are among the stars that have been linked with the role, but Hardy may have stolen a march on the competition to land the coveted role. “A flurry of bets over the past 24 hours suggests the cat is out the bag and it’s Tom Hardy that’ll soon be replacing Daniel Craig as 007,” said Alex Apati of Ladbrokes.

Betfred owners Fred and Peter Done took a £10.2 million dividend after the firm posted an operating profit of nearly £75 million for the year to September 2019. Fred Done warned that the UK government’s decision to reduce the minimum stake on FOBT machines from £100 to £2 left the firm “fighting for our lives”, but they actually ended up posting robust figures. Betfred also expects a further £107m FOBT-related boost in its 2020 results, after winning a landmark case against HM Revenue & Customs, which was found to have overcharged bookmakers VAT on the machines. Betfred has closed high street betting shops that were most affected by the FOBT stake reduction, and it continues to perform well online, while making inroads into the nascent US betting sector.

A committee of peers within the House of Lords will conduct a study of safeguards, responsibilities and consumer security in the gambling sector. The aim is to advise the government of urgent reforms to the gambling legislation. The 2005 Gambling Act, which created the UK Gambling Commission, is due to be reformed, and this committee will scrutinise responsible gambling measures. “Given that we have a third of a million problem gamblers, including 55,000 children, and one gambling-related suicide every day, action is urgently needed. Online gambling companies have cashed in on the pandemic, making more profit and putting more lives at risk,” Lord Foster of Bath, chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform. “This new group of 150 peers from across all sections of the Lords seeks to ensure urgent action is taken by the Government to reform our wholly outdated regulation. It is time for action.”