The man behind QuinnBet, Sean Quinn, was once the richest man in the Republic of Ireland, and although that is no longer true, he is still a very wealthy man.
Unlike many of the other bookmakers covered on this site, Sean Quinn was very wealthy before he launched a bookie, so it wasn’t bookmaking that made him his fortune; in fact, he’s not really a bookmaker at all.
Sean Quinn is a businessman, and QuinnBet represents just a tiny part of his overall business career.
He loves his sport, but he’s never worked in a bookmakers shop, and never drawn up odds for a market; he has built a multi-billion euro conglomerate from scratch though, as well as going bankrupt and serving time in jail.
Sean Quinn’s life has been a colourful one then and no mistake, but his contacts and brain for business have allowed him to create a brand-new online sportsbook and get it off the ground in a very competitive market.
It has changed ownership a few times, on paper at least, but as a brand, QuinnBet has had a respectable rise in a relatively short space of time.
Sean Quinn’s name is no longer on the list of company directors despite only founding the firm in 2017, but then again, he is an old man and it’s not as if he has any nostalgic attachment to QuinnBet; and anyway, his family have taken the reigns, so ownership hasn’t shifted very far.
How Sean Quinn Became Wealthy
Born in 1947 in Derrylin, County Fermanagh, Sean Quinn’s family were farmers, working 23 acres of land along the border that Sean’s father bought for £2,000.
It wasn’t something Sean particularly enjoyed though, and it certainly wasn’t making anybody rich.
Then, in 1967, Sean’s father sadly died, passing the farm and the business onto Sean, who was not even 20 years old at the time.
Sean had heard about other fathers excavating gravel from their land in the past, to sell to builders and the like, so after some investigation he borrowed £100 and set up excavating the land on his farm.
This was in 1973, and while it was not gravel that made Sean Quinn mega-rich, it was what made him his first million.
He moved on from gravel to found a company called Quinn Cement in the late 80s, which was where things really took off for him, but it was also his shrewd mind a network of contacts that served him well.
At the time, Margaret Thatcher was giving businesses 100% tax relief on profits that were reinvested, allowing people like Sean Quinn to grow their businesses at a much quicker rate.
He also had many friends on both sides of the Irish border, with certain things being cheaper on one side than the other. Sean knew how to take advantage of this too.
What’s more, thanks to his playing as team captain of the Gaelic football team back in the 1970s, he was known and liked by pretty much everyone, so when he undercut other building suppliers, people were more than happy to buy from him instead.
Before long, Quinn was selling glass, plastics, radiators, roof slates, tarmac, concrete and anything else you might need to make, build or repair something.
He was so influential, even in his earlier days, that he once punched a British soldier who had pulled him over at a check point, and got away with it. This was during the troubles.
Financial Services and Hospitality
With all guns blazing in the manufacturing sector, Sean Quinn turned his attention to hotels and the hospitality sector.
He began buying commercial property all over the country, with hotels being one of his main interests. The Slieve Russell in Ballyconnell was the jewel in the crown, but there were plenty more in Ireland and over in Europe too.
Having had a keen interest in the stock market since the 1980s, Sean Quinn also expanded his business interests to include insurance and financial services, and in terms of personal activities he has been playing the stock market trading commodities and other things for decades.
He moved in health care buying BUPA Ireland in 2007, and even attempted to move into the energy sector by building a power plant in the same year.
As you can see, Sean’s many business interests – all owned and operated by the conglomerate Quinn Group until 2013 – were diverse and far reaching. He was quite simply, everywhere, and his children had all been brought into the businesses as well, either owning or helping to run the various different divisions.
However, when companies get to the sort of size that Quinn Group was, they become very complex beasts to manage, and a perfect storm was heading Sean Quinn’s way.
Bankruptcy and Prison
Like so many ultra successful people, Sean Quinn eventually pushed his luck too far.
His bankruptcy unfolded over a period of several years, with a sequence of events starting in the mid-2000s.
Quinn heavily leveraged his business interests, borrowing extensively to fund acquisitions and expand his empire further, not to mention making increasingly risky calls on the stock market.
His conglomerate, Quinn Group, had substantial investments in the Irish property market, which was experiencing a booming bubble. As the global financial crisis of 2008 hit though, the Irish property bubble burst, causing property values to plummet. This severely impacted Quinn’s real estate assets and put immense financial pressure on his businesses.
At the same time, Quinn had built a significant stake in Anglo Irish Bank, a financial institution heavily exposed to the collapsing property market. Even worse, he had used complex financial instruments known as Contracts for Difference (CFDs) to invest in the bank. These are difficult to explain, but unlike buying regular shares, you can end up losing a lot more than you put in, an awful lot more.
As the value of Anglo Irish Bank shares nosedived, Quinn incurred massive and increasing losses, so ended up buying the shares outright to stop this. He borrowed the money to buy the shares from… the Anglo Irish Bank. So he borrowed money from the bank whose shares he was buying with that borrowed money.
In 2009, the Irish government intervened and effectively nationalised the Anglo Irish Bank, rendering Quinn’s investments in the bank virtually worthless.
Sean Quinn was now facing mounting legal battles. He engaged in controversial actions to shore up his finances, including attempts to hide assets and engage in asset-stripping activities. These actions led to protracted legal disputes with various parties, including the Irish government and the former Anglo Irish Bank.
In 2011, Sean Quinn had to file for bankruptcy as he found himself unable to meet his mounting debts. His business empire was placed under receivership, and he faced legal action for his involvement in the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank. Things were really bad, but they would get worse.
In 2012, he was sentenced to prison for contempt of court thanks to his controversial asset hiding/stripping. It was a significant and highly publicised chapter in his downfall, and even worse, his son, Sean Jnr, ended up in jail alongside him.
He would only serve 9 weeks, but for a man who was once the richest in the country, it was a long way to fall.
He might have been technically bankrupt, but anyone whose net worth is into the billions can survive a bankruptcy and some jail time pretty comfortably and still come out the other side a rich man.
Especially since he and his family refused to hand over billions worth of assets…
After 7 years licking his wounds, Sean Quinn emerged from bankruptcy and announced that “the family was back in business” with the launch of a brand-new online sportsbook, QuinnBet.
Sean himself, along with his son Sean Jnr, his brother-in-law Sean Kelly, and fellow businessman Seamus McMahon were the directors and owners of this new company, and their aim was to ‘ruffle up’ the Irish and UK betting industry.
The brand has engaged heavily in sponsorship since they were formed, with just some of their sponsorship campaigns including:
- Dundee United FC – Shirt Sponsor
- Swindon Town FC – Advertising Partner
- Hibernian FC – Gambling Partner
- Bournemouth AFC – Gambling Partner
- Peterborough FC – Advertising Partner
- Great Yarmouth Racecourse – Various Races
- Punchestown Racecourse – Grand National Trial
- The Curragh – Various Races
You might call this ‘fringe sponsorship’ since none of the deals are huge, but it gets the brand scattered around nicely and without too much expenditure.
Since launching, the operating company behind the brand has changed several times, most recently going from Belbridge Consulting to QuinnBet (Gibraltar) Limited in 2023.
As for Sean Quinn’s involvement, well he and his son, Sean Jnr, were directors of Belbridge Consultancy until 2020, at which point their involvement with QuinnBet officially ended.
That said, Sean’s son-in-law Stephen Kelly serves as QuinnBet’s managing director, and Sean’s youngest daughter Brenda part owns the business, and other family members have other roles. So while Sean himself no longer has any official connection to the bookmaking operation, it’s very much still a family business.
Quinn’s proclivity for handing down wealth to the younger generation of his family is in evidence too, as his 12 grandchildren all have QuinnBet shares held in trust.
In 2023 the firm was moved offshore to Gibraltar, although their Irish offices were unaffected. This was a tax move to cut costs, and one which almost all other British bookies have made too.
As for whether or not QuinnBet can be considered successful, well, in their first year they made a modest profit of around €150k, and this grew to around €1.4 with a turnover of €8.8 million in 2020, with profits rising almost double to €2.2 million in 2021.
It’s a far cry from the billions the family was worth back in the 2000s, but they certainly still know how to grow a business, and how to keep it in the family.