Tony Parente was offered a £20,000 bonus for joining the betting firm and plied with “lavish” hospitality at major sporting events during a 12-month period of “escalating and desperate” gambling.
The businessman eventually self-excluded from his account, shortly after Paddy Power staff had noted £77,846 in losses on bets totalling £2.3 million as "business as usual”.
Evidence of the handling of the Mr Parente emerged as his former business partner, Amarjeet Singh Dhir, tried to recover money from Paddy Power’s parent company, Flutter Entertainment, arguing the bets were bankrolled by money dishonestly taken from a Dubai property deal.
“Paddy Power knew from its own monitoring of Mr Parente that he was gambling like a problem gambler with an unhealthy and unsustainable gambling addiction on an escalating and desperate scale”, Mr Justice Griffiths found.
“Paddy Power knew that his losses were unsustainable on his known income and assets. Paddy Power knew that when they tried to get information from him to show source of wealth and source of funds, they failed.
“The information he provided did not suggest that he could afford to gamble on this scale, or that he had legitimate sources of wealth from which to fund it.
“They knew all this, but they continued to accept his stakes and, indeed, by providing gambling bonuses and lavish hospitality, to encourage him to gamble more. It stopped only when he stopped it himself by self-exclusion.”
The court heard Mr Parente was lured to Paddy Power by an agent in September 2015, receiving a £20,000 incentive to match the money he first put into his account.
Mr Parente, now a recovering addict and gambling awareness campaigner, had already self-excluded from BetFair – another firm under the Flutter umbrella – at the time he joined Paddy Power.
He was dubbed a “wild man” by Paddy Power monitoring staff after a series of heavy losses, but was allowed to continue gambling despite the firm having little evidence of his income.
Mr Parente hit a series of red flags within the company but his account remained unsuspended, the court heard, and senior staff knew he was gambling online from Dubai - where it is illegal.
The judge found Paddy Power’s monitoring system was “no more than a box-ticking exercise”, as Mr Parente continued to lose money “on an epic scale”.
The judge found Paddy Power’s “tone-deaf” witnesses had tried to “defend the indefensible” during the High Court trial, concluding: “Paddy Power knew that it was dealing with a compulsive gambler who could not afford what he was doing, and Paddy Power did not really care.”
Mr Parente, who appeared as a witness for Mr Dhir, admitted “defrauding people all over the place” and has UK convictions for fraud, but he was not prosecuted over the money he took from his partnership with Mr Dhir.
The judge ruled that Mr Dhir could not recover his lost funds from Flutter, as he was unable to prove a direct link between the stolen money and Mr Parente’s gambling activities.
Speaking in September last year, Mr Parente called VIP gambling schemes “extremely dangerous” and called for more regulation of the industry.
“They send you free incentives, cash incentives to keep you gambling, free chips, bonus chips, they send you messages asking ‘are you OK, see you haven’t played, did you get your free chips’, emails, personal calls, they give you hospitality”, he said.
“It’s just continuous bombardment by VIP account managers. It’s scandalous.
“Not every single customer, but the majority of VIP customers are not VIPs, they are problem gamblers and vulnerable people with an addiction that is controlling their life, that is what’s preyed on and that is what’s dangerous.”
Dan Taylor, chief executive officer of Flutter International, welcomed the High Court decision, saying: “Whilst we have always maintained that this claim was without merit, today’s ruling is no cause for celebration.
“The way Mr Parente’s account was handled, the failings of which were acknowledged in 2018 as part of a settlement agreed with the UK Gambling Commission, is a source of significant embarrassment for Flutter.
“Our business today is unrecognisable to what it was five years ago, but we know there is more we must do as an industry to ensure the most vulnerable are protected. We are committed to leading a race to the top in safer gambling and will continue to prioritise investment in this area.”