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Man on the Power throne; Paddy Power are out to revolutionise Irish bookmaking by beaming pictures into their shops. Michael Clower meets the man at the forefront of the industry.

STEWART KENNY has an unlikely background for a bookmaker. His father was a Supreme Court judge and had high hopes that his son would become a classical scholar. Instead Kenny jnr developed a career in bookmaking, had his fingers burnt over the Gay Future coup and ended up as the boss of the Paddy Power firm, which stunned the Irish betting industry a week ago when it announced it was going to beam pictures of Irish racing into the firm's 108 betting shops.

Few things escape the attention of the Republic's rumour-filled betting scene, but hardly anybody had an inkling that this deal was in the offing.

Kenny, 46, relates: "The Irish Horseracing Authority has been talking for years about putting Irish racing into the high street, but nothing was done and it was less than four weeks ago that we approached the Association of Irish Racecourses.

"We had all the technical data ready, we put the money down on the counter and said we wanted a deal in time for Listowel on Monday."

He got it-after agreeing to pay the racecourses IRpounds 1 million a year plus costs of IRpounds 600,000-but there has been an outcry from his rivals both off-course and on it.

The shops can see themselves losing customers hand over fist to a firm that offers a service they can't, while the on-course layers have nightmares of punters forsaking the racecourse for the Power shops.

"I am not surprised at the opposition. People fear change and there are always objections to it," comments Kenny almost gleefully, as if he enjoys having his firm's name made mud within the industry.

"In fact, we hope that many of the other shops will take the service. If so, our outlay will be reduced and the cost per shop will be dramatically cheaper.

"If we are landed with the whole bill we might struggle to recoup our costs from the extra turnover, but the loss-leader accusations are complete and utter garbage."

Kenny's grounding in the business followed a circuitous route. He ran a book at school at Glenstal and spent most of his time at University College Dublin as racing correspondent for its magazine.

He then had 18 months with Ladbrokes in London -"I learnt why some bets are unprofitable and also about the basis for odds. Many bookmakers have never been grounded in this and it's where a lot of them eventually go wrong."

After working briefly for Mecca and with a bookie in Dublin, he leased two shops-one in the capital and the other in the quiet market town of Athy. It was managed by a shrewd lady called Mrs Flood.

"A month after I started, she rang me and said a knowledgeable punter had just walked in and placed an IRpounds 100 bet. I was to lay it off.

"I ignored her advice. I was an arrogant little pup and I thought I knew it all. Then somebody came into my Dublin shop and backed the same horse. It was a 10-1 shot and, when I started trying to lay off some of the money, nobody would take the bet. The horse was Gay Future."

Kenny is a small cheerful man with large ears and a shiny dome-shaped head, much of it bald. He has a close-shaved beard, part of it going grey, and he is as sharp as the razor that trims it.

HE formed a successful partnership with Vincent O'Reilly and, when Corals burst onto the Irish scene 12 years ago, they sold their ten shops to the British firm for IRpounds 3 million.

The Paddy Power firm grew from a partnership that includes John Corcoran and David Power, the pipe-smoking on-course bookmaker. It has gone for market share and expanded by setting up large shops in most Irish towns of any size. What the opposition regard as gimmicks have also played a big part.

"What originally made me as a bookmaker was my offer to give all punters their money back if Red Rum won the Grand National. I had queues all the way up the pavement immediately after the race. Everybody thought they should get in quick before I ran out of money. But I ended up with hundreds of happy customers.

"Later I made similar offers on behalf of Paddy Power with Danoli and Desert Orchid although, fortunately, I never had to pay out on either."

Some of the firm's advertising campaigns have been too much for conservative Irish society. The poster of the Pope joining Glasgow Rangers brought torrents of abuse, as did a more recent one concerning the Irish Army.

Legions of solders took legal action against the army, claiming the noise of rifle shots had made them partially deaf.

Kenny opened a book on what the soldiers would think of next. Sueing for impaired vision due to the glare of shiny boots and fatigue from getting up early in the morning were two of the shorter-priced options.

"It went down like a lead balloon with our army customers. I ended up having to apologise and give IRpounds 1,000 to the Army Benevolent Fund."

But similar ploys will be thought up to boost the drive for expansion.

"What we are trying to do is give Irish punters so much value that they will automatically look for a Paddy Power shop rather than any of the others."

STEWART KENNY SPEAKS HIS MIND ON . . .

TELEPHONE BETTING

KENNY intends starting a tax-free telephone betting business in the Isle Of Man next year. There is widespread concern that this will put many Irish shops out of business as punters betting in amounts of Irpounds 50 or more will find it much more economical to bet tax-free on a freephone.

"Our original plan was not to take bets from Ireland but now that Irish customers are being targeted-William Hill had an ad in last Saturday's Irish Independent-we will target them too.

"You can't blame the customer or Hills. But I do blame the Government which has done nothing to protect Irish bookmakers and the jobs they provide."

BRITISH FIRMS

"THEY are run by accountants who operate by cutting expenses. They also take the view that, if the UK is divided up into five areas, for example, Ireland is simply area number six.

"They see no sense in some of our ideas and as a result our market share has risen from 16 per cent in 1992 to 27 per cent, whereas that of Ladbrokes and Corals combined has fallen from 23 to 19 per cent."

ON-COURSE SHOPS

"WE have shops at Punchestown and Cork, and we will have another at Naas, but we are unlikely to have many more. They are a good marketing tool, but from a profit point of view they are a disaster. We have to pay five or six per cent of turnover to the racecourse in rent."

TAX ON TAX

"WE collect the whole 10 per cent and pass it on to the Government. Bookmakers in Britain charge the punter nine per cent. They pay 6.75 per cent in tax and about 1.5 per cent in Levy. Whatever way you look at it they have 0.75 per cent for themselves. If we had this, we would increase our profits by IRpounds 1 million a year."

IRISH RACING

"THE business about there being more non-triers in Ireland is a myth. The truth is that Irish racing is as straight as English racing, although no straighter. The IHA's plans for the Tote are ill-researched. The Irish Tote suffers in exactly the same way as the Irish lottery in that there is not a big enough population to get good pools."

ANTE-POST BETTING

"ANTE-POST betting is a shop window. It is also the spoofer's art of bookmaking with noughts added on all over the place."

RACING CHANNEL

"MY major criticism of it is that it promotes illegal betting in pubs, whereas it was set up to promote legitimate betting."

SPREAD BETTING

"WE would be into spread betting faster than most of the horses running today if it was practical.

"But the high tax-rate in Ireland makes it impossible and losing bets cannot be recovered at law in this country."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Clower, Michael
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 17, 1998
Words:1371
Previous Article:Emphasis this year on speed and class; Michael Ross looks at some of the yearlings on offer at next week's auction.
Next Article:Leggera flies the flag for Sadler's Wells.


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