Paddy Power Bookmaker History (David Power)

Paddy Power Fun LogoPaddy Power is a gambling brand synonymous with tongue in cheek marketing campaigns, mischievous stunts, and generally having a wicked sense of humour.

It’s a company born out of Ireland, is still headquartered in Dublin despite now being part of a much larger umbrella company, Flutter Entertainment, and it leans heavily on the Irish heritage too – and there is a reason for that.

Paddy Power is actually the result of a merger between three different independent bookies, but one family in particular have become the ‘face’ of the brand, the family of David Power.

Obviously, this is where part of the name comes from, but there is more of a story to this.

The Power name was arguably the strongest of the three founders in bookmaking circles, which is why it was chosen, but when it comes to the first part of the name, ‘Paddy’, this is in direct reference to why the merger happened in the first place.

At the time, Ireland was going through something of an invasion of British brands like Ladbrokes, with smaller independent bookies being bought out by the larger companies.

The men behind Paddy Power weren’t happy about this, so their merger was equally about protecting their own business interests, but also about fighting back against British bookies taking Irish customers.

And what name is more Irish than Paddy?

So the Paddy Power name was all at once an act of defiance, self-preservation, and Irish pride.

The Men Behind Paddy Power

Paddy Power Founders

The three bookmakers who joined forces to create Paddy Power did so in 1988, starting out with a pretty strong fleet of 40 shops once all their individual premises had been brought under the same banner.

The betting tax had been halved in Ireland which was what had attracted the British bookmakers in the first place, and because these bigger brands had the money to make their shops more salubrious than the independently owned Irish ones, not to mention fielding better promotions, customers were starting to abandon the independents.

This gives a little more context to the reasons behind Paddy Power’s formation; with 40 shops all bringing income into the same business, there was more money to spend on updating the shops and matching promotions, so they could compete with the British brands.

They also appealed to the patriotic side of punters, opting for green branding and of course, choosing the name ‘Paddy Power’, which was something of a two fingered salute to the Brits. It said ‘you won’t beat us, we are Ireland, and we will stick together’.

But while 1988 this is the year that Paddy Power officially came into being, the men behind the brand had been involved in the gambling industry for many years previously.

David Power

Paddy Power History David PowerDavid Power’s grandfather, Richard Power, was the man who started the first ‘Power’ gambling business. His employer would send him to place illegal bets on his behalf, but Richard noticed that he was never sent to collect any winnings, so instead of placing the bets, he just pocketed the money for himself.

He began taking bets on course in Waterford in 1895 after his boss caught him out. He needed to make money somehow so with no experience he just started shouting out odds and taking wagers, winging it initially but eventually growing the business to the point where he had pitches at courses up and down the country and even across the sea in England.

He would have held pitches next to other now famous names such as William Hill and Victor Chandler’s grandfather, William.

David Power technically inherited his grandfather’s on course business aged just 16, after his own father, Richard’s son, Patrick, suddenly died, leaving David and his mother to manage alone. They kept it going though, and David ran things right up until he retired in 2018, when Richard Power bookmakers was wound down.

He also opened a high street bookmaking arm to the Richard Power business though, and when the Paddy Power merger occurred, David Power split the business in two, so that the on-course side could continue under its original name of Richard Power, and the high street side could become part of Paddy Power.

David Power himself was born in 1947 and had been involved in the gambling industry full time since 1970, which would have made him 41 years old at the time of the merger. He had qualified as a chartered accountant before taking over the bookmaking business, so he always had a talent for numbers.

He is also the only founder to have involved his children in the business. He has four, Patrick, William, Tessa and Shanni, but it’s just the boys who followed their father into the trade; while Shanni is a solicitor and Tessa is an artist, William ended up running the Richard Power on course business while Patrick has held many roles within Paddy Power.

David Power is still on the board of Paddy Power, the only founder still attached to the company (although Stewart Kenny owns shares), but he is an old man now so no longer works on a day-to-day basis.

Stewart Kenny

Paddy Power History Stewart KennyStewart Kenny arguably has the most interesting story of the men behind the Paddy Power brand. He is also the most well known.

Born in 1951 the son of a Supreme Court Judge, he was the youngest of the Paddy Power founders, aged 37 at the time of the merger, and he already had a reputation for offering novelty bets, which became something of a USP for Paddy Power too.

Kenny learned his trade working for Ladbrokes, in London, but his career choice did not go down well with his more traditional family.

Aged 22, he returned to Ireland and founded his own small betting shop chain consisting of 3 shops, before going into business with another bookmaker called Vincent O’Reilly, to create the Kenny O’Reilly bookmaking business.

They had a 10 shop portfolio by 1986, but when Coral came in with an offer of £3 million for them it was happily accepted.

However, while Coral bought the shops and the business, they did not buy the company name, so hilariously, just 3 days after the sale went through, Kenny O’Reilly was back in business using the £3 million Coral had just paid them to open under the same name just at different locations.

Later in his career Kenny sold 25% of his shares in Paddy Power in order to give the money to charity, and was forced to make the information public due to the stock market rules about directors buying and selling shares.

He said that he wished it could have been kept a secret, as “charity is not the same when you shout about it from the rooftops”.

Stewart Kenny retired from the gambling industry in 2016, going on to qualify as a psychotherapist and coach, working mainly with people diagnosed with ADHD, a condition he has himself.

He has since said that this work improved his understanding of addiction, and that while he once wanted to normalise gambling and take it from a back page ‘sin’ to a front-page hobby that could be responsibly enjoyed, “it has been normalised too far now”.

For a long time he was the face of the brand, being interviewed in the press, offering his opinion on politics, and coming up with much of the marketing strategies. As the company grew though, it went in a direction he did not approve of (Paddy Power is not the bookie it once was). In the book ‘Punter’, by Aaron Rogan, Kenny admits that he tried to steer the ship back, but his voice was drowned out, and eventually he was little more than an empty suit at the table.

He’s a fascinating man; today’s tribalist media outlets would have no idea what to make of him. A Buddhist, he spoke out against the introduction of fixed odds betting terminals and campaigned against them, he even resigned from Paddy Power because he didn’t think they were doing enough to combat addiction; but he still loves gambling, bets frequently himself, and believes that an ethical gambling industry that is properly regulated has a place in society.

John Corcoran

Paddy Power History John CorcoranJohn Corcoran was born in 1929, one of eight children, and is the third bookmaker of the Paddy Power triumvirate.

His father was a well-known hurling champion and had also ran a bookmaking business in his later years, but died unexpectedly in 1959, leaving a 30-year-old John to take the reins; so by the time the Paddy Power idea was floated he already had 30 years’ experience.

It was actually John Corcoran’s idea to start a single brand by combining all three of their betting shops, as a way to fight back against the British brands who were only interested in short term profit.

By John’s estimation, if they pooled resources and focused on market share instead of short-term profits, there could be only one winner.

He managed to convince Power and Kenny that he was right, and by all accounts, without John pushing the merger, Paddy Power would never have existed – he was certainly the driving force behind it according to his co-founders.

As the elder of the trio by a good ten years, Corcoran held a certain level of respect with his colleagues, but it was his calm and collected nature that really won people around. Like all bookmakers and sports fans, he loved to win, but he also knew how to take a loss and was respected for it.

He was an extremely successful businessman away from Paddy Power too, running the Green Property Company which was one of Ireland’s most active commercial property developers, as well as owning many race horses.

A great lover of the outdoors, Corcoran kept bees, enjoyed hunting and fishing, as well as simply spending time in the countryside on long walks etc.

In July of 2019, John Corcoran, passed away aged 89 years.

Growing the Paddy Power Brand

Paddy Power ShopGiven their strong starting position, Paddy Power already had an 8% market share in the off-course betting arena when they formed in 1988, but by 2001 that had increased to 33%.

Despite their prominence in the UK these days though, Paddy Power remained predominantly an Irish only brand for their first 15 years or so.

In 2002 they ran 127 shops in Ireland but had just two shops on British soil, although plans were in place to open 12 more.

It was a series of acquisitions that had helped them to grow their portfolio so quickly on home soil, but they would need significant funds to lay down roots in the UK.

They had floated on the stock market in 2000 with the aim to raise capital in order to fund this expansion, and the money was evidently put to very good use over the next few years, since those plans to open 12 UK based shops had turned into 45 by 2005.

What’s more, their online betting service was available in the UK nice and early, so Paddy Power could attract British customers before having any real presence in the country, and when they did show up, many bettors already knew who they were.

Paddy Power First Website

They went online in the early 2000s, having already established a telephone betting operation prior to this, and added an online casino in 2002 so the product verticals were developing at pace.

The brand was growing in size and reputation with British punters, and a big part of that was their unique marketing strategy.

While other bookies were focussing on offers and sponsoring sporting events, Paddy Power fooled around by offering crazy novelty markets and pulling stunts in public to raise their profile.

Basically, they made people laugh, and the reaction was good.

Paddy Power Marketing – Patrick Power

Patrick Power Page 3 Cheltenham Advert Paddy Power

Although Stewart Kenny had been the first to come up with the idea of offering novelty markets on non-sport related things such as TV shows (Who Shot JR was a good early one), it was David Power’s son, Patrick, who really ran with the idea.

Patrick Power – or Paddy as he is known, yep; Paddy Power – is one David Power’s four children, and he joined the firm aged 22 as an odds compiler, in 1996.

He went on to work as their PR officer and handled a lot of their marketing campaigns, as well as looking after VIPs. This accidentally made him the ‘face’ of the brand – a role he has unofficially held ever since; he even shows up in their TV commercials from time to time, and once posed naked on page 3 of the Irish Sun (in place of a nude page 3 girl for those of you old enough to remember that).

One of the campaigns Paddy is most famous for, is the Oscar Pistorius trial.

It was a bizarre situation. Oscar Pistorius was a paralympic sprinter who had lost both of his feet as an infant, so he used fake legs. One night, he shot his girlfriend through the toilet door, allegedly mistaking her for an intruder. She died, and Pistorius was tried for murder.

Paddy Power Oscar Pistorius OfferThe case was a huge media storm, with questions raised about the state of their relationship and whether Pistorius had shot her on purpose or not, whether his distress was genuine or a performance, etc.

Paddy Power opened a market on the result of the trial, and later ran a promotion using the words “It’s Oscar Time. Your Money Back if he Walks”.

Offensive on many different levels, the advert drew a record 5,500 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, and was banned.

Paddy Power have had many adverts banned, and this article would take all year to read if we listed all of them, but a few others include a blind football team kicking a cat instead of a football with a bell in it, and bettors who were using the Paddy Power app to ‘knock one out’ (a bet) in their pockets being mistaken for doing… something else.

This stream of boundary pushing, questionably line crossing, marketing campaigns actually did wonders for Paddy Power, because even if some people found them offensive, a lot more people found them funny, and would use Paddy Power as their bookie of choice as a result.

Betfair and Flutter

Paddy Power Betfair Logo

Through all of this marketing controversy, Paddy Power was opening more shops in Ireland and the UK, as well as expanding their online product.

By 2010 they had 139 UK retail outlets, 8 in Northern Ireland, and 209 in Ireland itself, and a year later they became the first online bookie to launch a dedicated betting app, helping them to become the largest bookmaker in Europe based on share value.

To maintain their dominant position, in 2015 Paddy Power entered into a merger with another big betting brand, Betfair. It was an interesting deal because the two brands couldn’t have been more different; Paddy Power was aimed at casual bettors in person and online who wanted a bit of a laugh, while Betfair operated solely online and was aimed at those who took their betting more seriously, with their betting exchange being a key reason customers liked them.

Although technically a merger, in reality it looked more like an acquisition, since despite Betfair continuing to trade under their own brand name, both brands were run from Paddy Power’s Dublin HQ and the company was split 52% – 48% in Paddy Power’s favour.

A new company, ingeniously named Paddy Power Betfair, was created to run both brands, becoming one of the largest online betting companies in the world.

Flutter EntertainmentThis also allowed them to offer stronger competition to the high street brands that were more dominant at the time, such as Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betfred, and Coral.

Early expansion into the American market, which was rumoured to be opening up, saw Paddy Power Betfair acquire both Draft and FanDuel in 2018, two US based fantasy sports operators, and they also picked up a Georgian brand called Adjarabet around the same time.

Paddy Power Betfair was now a much bigger company and they decided that a rebrand was needed in order to better represent the global behemoth they planned on becoming, and so the name Flutter was chosen.

This is actually the name of a rival betting exchange that Betfair bought out back in their early days, but it fitted their needs well.

Things went a bit mad from that point, with rapid acquisitions resulting in Flutter owning and operating all the brands already mentioned as well as Poker Stars, SkyBet, Fox Bet, Sportsbet (Australia), Sisal (Italy), tombola, not to mention the racing broadcasting company TVG, the sports betting content site/magazine Sporting Life, and Timeform which is a sports data and content provider.

Paddy Power is still the brand at the top of the pack though, now with 608 retail outlets in the UK and Ireland, and with the Power family still in the controlling seats at the board table.