Receiver appointed to Ivan Yates's Celtic Bookmakers

 

Celtic Bookmakers, the independent chain owned by broadcaster and former Fine Gael minister Ivan Yates and his wife Deirdre, has gone into receivership.

Established in Wexford in 1987, the bookmaking group employs 237 people.

A statement from the directors confirmed AIB had appointed Neil Hughes of Hughes Blake accountants as receiver. The 47 betting shops are immediately being put up for sale as a going concern, either as individual units or as one lot.

The directors said that while there would be “inevitable significant job losses”, they would try and retain as many of the 237 jobs as possible. Mr Yates said he was "hopeful" of saving 100 jobs but there was no guarantee of that.

Revenue at Celtic Bookmakers fell by an “unsustainable” 50 per cent since mid-2007, having previously achieved an annual income of €180 million and an operating profit of €4 million, the directors said in their statement.

Since then, it has reduced its cost base from €17 million to less than €12 million, including the closure of 12 loss-making shops.

Conditions in 2010 continued to deteriorate and prevented the company from securing a suitable merger, refinancing or restructuring despite "many months" of effort.

“Today is a profoundly sad day for our employees, for our families and for ourselves,” Mr Yates said.

“I take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation to all of our wonderful staff, managers, great customers, landlords and suppliers for their support and loyalty over the past 23 years. Like many, we did not anticipate the rapid decline in the economy, but I acknowledge that the accelerated growth of the business placed the company in a difficult position given the extent of the recession.”

The directors said any employees made redundant would get their full statutory entitlement. They said they had supported the company from their personal resources and had outstanding unpaid loans to it. They had kept their salaries to an "absolute minimum" and had not drawn any remuneration for the past three years.

"There have been no rash decisions, diversifications or investments that have contributed to the current difficulties," the statement said.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Yates confirmed that his own house in Dublin, the home of his 78-year-old mother at Blackstoops, Enniscorthy and the ancestral family home and farm had been used as collateral for bank loans and that the bank was "pursuing" this. The company owes in the region of €6 million.

“I take full responsibility for this commercial disaster. There’s no hiding place for me on this and the consequences are there,” he said. “I was part of the Celtic Tiger thrusting forward. I gave up politics to drive this ambition to create a national brand and family business and it has ended in tears.”

Celtic expanded rapidly in earlier years, acquiring a number of smaller bookmakers’ stores to add to its portfolio. But more recently it had concentrated on cost reduction. It cut job numbers to 237 from 256 in the course of 2009.

The directors said at that time they were confident the company would return to profitability in future years.

In 2005, the company had a turnover of about €105 million and Mr Yates estimated the following year that it was growing at about 20 per cent per annum.

During its rapid expansion, it opened outlets in places such as Swansea and Bristol. In 2006, Celtic spent an estimated €5 million on the purchase of Dublin-based Joe Molloy Bookmakers to add a further 10 stores to the chain.

The company’s website appeared to have been taken down this morning.

Mr Yates (50) left school at the age of 16 and joined Fine Gael at 17. He spent over 20 years as TD for Wexford and served on Fine Gael front bench for more than 12 years. He was minister for agriculture from 1994 to 1997, a period that included the BSE crisis.

Despite being tipped as a potential leader of Fine Gael, he announced in 2001 that he would retire from politics in order to concentrate on his family and business interests.

Speaking to The Irish Times in February 2001 following his decision to withdraw from political life, Mr Yates said his late father, John F. Yates, had not approved of his choice. “I come from a Protestant background and my family would have been distrustful of politics, they would have felt it was a dubious profession. But to be truthful they feel equally dubious about bookmaking. I can't win,” he said.

Mr Yates said in his statement today he would continue with his other non-bookmaking commitments as the affairs of Celtic Bookmakers are concluded. He said he would resume his broadcasting role with Newstalk radio next Monday.

Labour spokesman on enterprise Willie Penrose said the announcement was "very bleak news" for the employees of the company.

"The ongoing problems of the retail sector have been intensified by the bleak pre-Christmas weather and it is unlikely that Celtic will be the only casualty," he said.

He said the problems of Celtic had also been exacerbated by the "unequal playing pitch between high street bookies and those operating on line", because different tax requirements applied to each.