Many tears will be shed, fingernails chewed, hands sat on and champagne bottles opened this week as much of the nation turns its attention to the Cheltenham festival. It’s probably the biggest week of the year for the horse racing fraternity, but it’s also the biggest bumper event for the multi-million euro online gambling industry.
Despite the damage caused to many people’s lives by gambling, online and other forms of betting are constantly promoted in Ireland, and the Taoiseach even celebrated the success of the industry by opening Paddy Power’s new offices recently. It seems we’re being wowed by the boost it provides the economy and the jobs being created without considering the long term consequences the growth of this industry could have for society as a whole.
The Irish have always enjoyed a flutter on the races but we – as well as the rest of the world – are betting more than ever thanks largely to the emergence of online gambling. In 2003 the online gambling market was worth $7.4 billion, but since then has grown a staggering 483% into a market worth $35.8 billion in 2012. Gambling is also no longer the preserve of men hanging around smoky betting shops as anyone with access to the internet on a computer or mobile phone can now part with their hard earned cash with just a few clicks. Middle-aged housewives are almost as likely to be having a punt as the sports-crazed young male, thanks to the boom in online casinos and virtual bingo.
As the market has grown, so too have the advertising budgets of the new multinational bookmaking companies. Not only are we subjected to ads for multiple betting platforms during the half time ads in football matches, but during the game live betting odds constantly scroll across the pitch side advertising hoardings.
Paddy Power – Ireland’s biggest bookmaker – is one of the few domestic companies flourishing in the recession. In 2003 its fledgling online business made a profit of €1.37 million on €185 million staked from punters. By the peak of the boom in 2007 that had risen to a €32 million profit based on €630 million staked, but amazingly since then despite the worsening economic conditions business has continued to boom. In 2012 the company took a staggering total of €2.1 billion in online bets in 2012 resulting in a €72.7 million profit which accounts for 62% of the firm’s overall profit. In the same period the number of online ‘active customers’ has increased from 29,000 in 2002 to more than 1.3 million in 2012. *
Now you can say that this is great and the company is boosting the economy and creating jobs at a very difficult time, but for a bookmaker to make money the punter has to be losing, and often the ones losing are those who can least afford to. The bookies, in much the same way as the drinks industry claim they want customers to ‘drink responsibly,’ say it’s not in their interest for people to lose badly but if all the customers were winning there wouldn’t be an industry. Although many will enjoy the buzz of a gamble this week, in a country where we already have a huge problem with alcohol addiction should we be doing a little more to discourage the growth of what could easily become another damaging national obsession?
* All financial figures quoted in this article do not include Sportsbet figures, an Australian firm acquired by Paddy Power in 2009.