Fine Gael gets it wrong by schmoozing with Paddy Power

28 August, 2011

Patrick Kennedy, the chief executive of bookmaker Paddy Power, has been invited to address the upcoming Fine Gael think-in to be held in Galway.  Mr Kennedy is a very fine fellow and a first-rate businessman, but the invitation to him should be politely withdrawn.

Firstly, a new betting tax regime is to be the subject of legislation in the near future. Kennedy has been vocal (in letters to the Irish Times and elsewhere) in setting out his views of how best this should work.  Betting tax has been reduced over the years from 10 per cent in stages down to 1 per cent, mainly on the initiative of former finance minister Charles McCreevy.  The government is reviewing a possible increase, and the extension of betting tax to online betting.  This is still all up for grabs, so it seems wrong that a major industry player should be given a platform at a sensitive time.  A hostage to fortune is being given, and FG may regret the perceived “contamination” if the legislation is judged to be soft on the betting industry.

Secondly, without being unduly po-faced or prim about it, gambling is still a controversial business, and causes a lot of hardship and unhappiness in many homes around the country.  I am not in favour of a general prohibition on gambling (I enjoy a flutter myself), although I do not believe that casinos should be legalised as they attract criminals and other undesirables like bees to honey.

Thirdly,  betting and gambling do not add value to society in an economic sense in the way agriculture, manufacturing or certain service industries do.  It is a zero-sum game.  The lure of riches through gambling is as illusory as the delusion we suffered during the boom that we could become rich by selling houses to each other; both are economically worthless.

There are many other chief executives that could have been invited to speak to FG members next month, so it seems a pity that the person chosen represents an industry which, while at best providing harmless amusement, is usually never far from controversy and which should , with legislation imminent,  be treated as a bit of a hot potato at this time.

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