Paddy Power should clean up its cheeky act

 

Outlook Paddy's Powering ahead. Profits might have only increased by 5 per cent last year, to €141m (£116m), compared with the double-digit leaps shareholders have come to expect from this thoroughbred of the betting industry.

But given the heavy going the bookie has been ploughing through – a punter-friendly set of sports results plus a big investment in Italy that will only start paying off next year – that's very creditable. Compared with some rivals, it's in Gold Cup winning form.

The worry for investors, however, is that regulation could make the going tough for some time and Paddy's love of stirring up controversy may contribute to this.

Some of the bookie's previous stunts have been witty, with well-chosen targets. The sponsoring of a sports event in the French village of London, so the company could advertise itself as "the official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London this year" during the 2012 Olympics caused a chuckle.

But offering bets on the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, advertised with an Oscar statue touting a money-back offer if he walks, goes way too far. An innocent woman died, remember.

This comes at a time when the industry's critics are in full voice, with betting shops and betting machines in the line of fire.

Their ideas don't always add up. Take reducing maximum bets gamblers can place through casino-style fixed-odds betting terminals. That would result in a "murky" compromise with the big five bookmakers, according to the Labour MP Graham Jones.

No one appears to be talking about online, because it's far less visible and harder to do anything about, despite the fact that the only limit on stakes is how much your bank will let you put on your credit card.

Meanwhile, preventing "clustering" of betting shops in poor areas by re-introducing a version of the old "demand" test? That would simply favour the existing players to the detriment of newer entrants (like Paddy Power) and competition. Misguided they may be, but these measures are being actively debated, so it's a bad time for Paddy to be making a fool of itself.

If Paddy were smart it would say "We hear you" and deliver a cheeky smile and a bit of contrition. Such a move would pay dividends. It might even help sustain the ones paid to shareholders.

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