Tony O'Reilly – the post office manager who stole €1.75m and lost it all
There is no rock bottom, it seems, when somewhere in the depths of your psyche you still feel there’s this possibility of turning it all around. It is so hard to say ‘it’s over’ when there is always this inner voice telling you that somehow it might not be over yet. That everything might still be all right.
Tony O’Reilly is sunk in a low-flung armchair in the reception room of Teach Mhuire, a Georgian transition house for recovering addicts that is situated on the north side of inner-city Dublin.
He works here as a counsellor, having recently submitted his thesis and completed his degree.
O’Reilly, 43, is of medium height and weight. There is nothing sinister or intimidating about him and he is easy to talk to, an earnest, humble and personable sort of guy. He is your average Joe, which is something that should maybe concern us all.
On June 24, 2014, O’Reilly was released from Shelton Abbey, the open prison in County Wicklow that he graduated to from the higher-security confines of Portlaoise.
In total he served 18 months of a three-year term for stealing €1.75m from the post office that he managed in Gorey, County Wexford to feed a pathological gambling habit.
His recently published biography Tony 10 – the username of his sole online betting account with Paddy Power – is an arresting insight into the destructive spiral that exists for those who lose control of their punting senses.
From a sepia-tinted, seemingly harmless first Ir£1 double on Holland to beat Argentina 2-1 in the 1998 World Cup quarter-final and for Patrick Kluivert to score the first goal that yielded Ir£45, to the myriad five-figure accumulators en route to generating €10.5m worth of turnover, it is all documented in forensic detail.
O’Reilly sits here now, a reformed character, but he was an ordinary decent criminal and isn’t inclined to dress it up any other way.
“My partner asked, would I not put ‘took’ instead of ‘stole’ on the back of the book, but I told her that you can’t butter it up,” he says frankly in his strong midlands accent.
“I committed a crime, I stole money. I broke the law, I went to prison. I can’t justify any of that now.”
When the news broke in 2011 that a post office manager, known locally as the Golden Child for his prodigious ascent up the ranks, had been caught with his fingers in the till, the sums of money involved grabbed the headlines.
Over an eight-year stretch from 2003, O’Reilly had earned winnings of €9m and staked nearly €10.5m on his Paddy Power account.
The volume escalated dramatically over a period of 18 months, and it is a combination of the bet details and the deceit that accompanied his habit in a pseudo parallel universe that makes the book such an engrossing read.
O’Reilly, or his Tony 10 alter ego, confided in no-one.
In that sense, the book is a startling illustration of the silent devastation that gambling can inflict when it is a hidden, corrosive addiction.
You put it to O’Reilly that it is hard to reconcile that lying, stealing, selfish incarnation of himself with the apparently honest, decent skin that sits before you.
“That’s the thing,” he agrees.
“I was a different person when I was gambling, and I wanted that to come across in the book, because I was a horrible person, in all of my relationships. That is all part of the persona of someone with an addiction. The only relationship you have is with a substance or behaviour. You don’t have any proper relationships with people.”
Small-stake accumulators, comprising mainly football selections, but supplemented by horses, fed O’Reilly’s early betting forays. Back then, it was a relatively healthy pastime but patterns began emerging in the spring of 2005 that signalled the damaging road down which he was hurtling.
Co-author Declan Lynch paints a picture of O’Reilly’s OCD tendencies in his youth, and he was granted full access to the 595-page dossier of his subject’s lifetime activity with Paddy Power.
On May 6, 2005, there were 21 transactions. O’Reilly ended the day with a handsome withdrawal of €600, as things began to crank up for a punter still staking sums under €100.
He soon had €1,500 nestled in his account. For a post office worker not averse to accruing debts, be it on his credit card or in the shape of loans from financial institutions, this was all good. Too good.
A €50 double on West Ham’s Bobby Zamora to score first in a play-off semi-final and for CSKA Moscow to win the Uefa Cup returned almost €5,000. By the time Dasher Reilly won at Galway in July, he was in profit to the tune of €11,500.
“That was the one time I felt I was ever, ever up,” O'Reilly reflects.
“We had a new house and I had a personal loan, and I was thinking that if I paid that off, I would still have been up €1,000. That was the only time I ever remember thinking I can get out of this relatively unscathed.”
If only. Given his obsessive inclinations, would enough ever have been enough?
“It’s never enough when you've crossed that place to the point where gambling is a problem.”
O’Reilly crossed the Rubicon. Because of the secretive, isolated nature of his gambling, going back to zero had no leverage for him. Galway was on again the following day, and he ended up losing €6,000. So it went.
Consumed by the impulse to bet, Tony 10 was no longer master of his own actions, yet Tony O’Reilly still seemed to be in control of his destiny, for all that it was a facade.
In mid-2009 he got promoted to the position of branch manager in Gorey.
However, the better that Tony O’Reilly does, the more it seems Tony 10 is determined to take the good out of it . . . In fact, in January 2010, when the bills and the gambling wipe out his wages in a day, he actually doesn’t have the money to get home from the office.
O’Reilly took an ‘increment’ of €600 without clearance, and got carpeted for doing so by his line manager. All future advances would be “strictly off the record”.
A hopeless addict
Despite his gambling windfalls – one of which prompted the closure of a betting shop – he was at this point around €60,000 in debt. As would later be accepted in a court of law, none of his winnings were ever put toward any extravagance. He wasn’t a flash harry, he was a hopeless addict.
The theft started with bags of coins, and quickly progressed to notes, pilfered out of €50,000 stacks with pliers.
“The walls were starting to close in on me then,” he recalls of the preamble to his first theft.
“I was thinking, how am I going to afford the mortgage repayments, two car repayments, bills and all the expense that comes with a new-born baby? I was sitting there, panicking, and a moment of madness came over me. Because I had the big wins before, I was just thinking, do the same as before. Borrow the money, in inverted commas, and win it back.”
By the time a first audit was due, he had stolen €8,000. His mother gave him a cheque for that sum to tide him over due to a “cash flow issue” and he returned to the post office. But it was too late.
The audit team was already in situ. In the first of a stunning sequence of regulatory oversights, the auditors missed the discrepancy, and O’Reilly was left with €8,000 burning a hole in his pocket. He rolled the dice. Again.
Part of him knows the only thing to do now is to give it back to his mother. But the other part of him, now the dominant part, can think only of this €8,000 as ammunition that might enable him to get back to a better place he left a long time ago. A place in which he never has to do this sort of thing again. This is how he justifies the fact he is now, essentially, stealing from his own mother.
“That’s how I was justifying it,” he reiterates now, “but even if I had put that €8,000 back it would have been an extra loan. The whole process would have started again – I was always chasing.”
Hereafter, the book reads like a barely credible crime caper or a warped satire. The sums are more eye-watering, the close shaves more dramatic, and the audacious manner in which he cooks the books to avoid detection by the auditors becomes almost routine.
He might be Frank Abagnale Jr in Catch Me If You Can or Nick Leeson, the quintessential rogue trader. Tellingly, Lloyd Christmas, Jim Carrey’s character in Dumb & Dumber with a penchant for IOUs, is the simile deployed in the book.
Still, his punting prowess was pretty astute at times.
In the autumn of 2010, he was denied a €300,000 triumph – then the sum of his crimes – on a 14-part accumulator when the final leg ended in a draw between Lokeren and Wetteren in a Belgian Cup game. He needed Lokeren to win, which they did – in extra-time.
The following spring his Paddy Power balance stood at €172,000, but by then he had stolen €900,000. He was careering headlong into an abyss and duly squandered the €172,000.
It is hard to get there, almost a million euro, especially for a desperate man. But on a certain night in April, he feels he might just be able to do It . . . For a weekend in April 2011, when he is most in need of it, Tony 10 has the magic.
Starting with a €4,000 deposit, a lucrative run of results that include Charl Schwartzel's victory in the Masters, Real Zaragoza bringing up an accumulator worth nearly €50,000 and a win for Argentinian tennis player Brian Dabul, Tony 10 amassed €462,000 in winnings.
He was halfway to somewhere. Or nowhere, for there is an inevitability about how this sorry escapade ends.
In a manic 12-hour spree, he torches the lot. Of 31 bets on obscure football teams around the world, 29 fall. Carnage.
You put it to O’Reilly that his book is as much about addiction as gambling, and that his poison might have just as easily been drink or drugs. He accepts that but feels he was blindsided by this particular diversion.
“It could be just the way I am hardwired,” he agrees. “Growing up in Carlow, I would have seen alcohol and drug addiction, so I was aware of the pitfalls, and I didn’t become a compulsive gambler overnight.
“It eventually became something I had to do, not something I wanted to do. The financial situation I found myself in, then taking the money to try to fix that, that started the panicked cycle which made the gambling more compulsive.”
When he finally sensed the game was up he went on the run to Northern Ireland, where his inability to stop gambling led to the critical juncture at which the worlds of Tony 10 and Tony O’Reilly collided. The final third of the book is utterly cathartic, a wretched cautionary tale.
The fallout saw O’Reilly contemplate suicide, his marriage break down and a little girl have to watch her father be arraigned. In memoir extracts he describes the trauma of his daughter clinging to him during visits, her terror-like primal anxiety contributing to some harrowing passages.
To O'Reilly's credit, though, he has come out the other side. For all that this is a story of the high price of reckless wrongdoing, it is not without redemption and hope.
“I regret hugely what I did, but there was a sister in Cuan Mhuire where I underwent my treatment, and she always said you have to try to get back to a point of peaceful regret,” he asserts philosophically.
“I have to try to get on with my life and give something back to society, or just to my friends and family. That’s what I try to do each day.
“In my recovery I had to separate who I think I am as a person from who I was during the time I was addicted. I was brought up well and have values in and around stealing and breaking the law, but I did both when I was gambling.
“Someone said to me recently that Tony 10 was like a fictional character, and that I am like a normal person, but that’s all I ever was. I just got consumed by this demon inside me.”
Chances are, that same demon lurks somewhere inside every punter. Be mindful to keep it in check.
Power not to blame but proper legislation needed in Ireland
The elephant in the room throughout Tony 10 is the compliant role of the bookmaker.
Personal responsibility comes first, of course, but at some point there is also an onus on corporate entities to protect the vulnerable from themselves.
O’Reilly lays no fault at Paddy Power’s door for his actions, but the firm’s inaction is hard to reconcile with its commitment to promote responsible gambling.
Among other unsettling occurrences, O’Reilly was able to walk into the betting office alongside the post office in which he worked and discreetly hand over stacks of €5,000 at a time, rising to €25,000 a day, five days a week when his self-destruction was at its most pervasive.
He was placing bets of thousands of euro in the shop and making enormous lodgements to his account. No questions asked.
On the final page of the book, the official Paddy Power response states: “We don’t discuss the details of individual customer accounts, but we are continually evolving our responsible gambling procedures and improving our interaction with customers who display signs of harm. There are, naturally, positive developments in our approach from the time of this case.”
Since 2013 in Ireland, legislation to regulate the gambling sector – tailored specifically to protect problem gamblers – has trundled glacially through government buildings. Hastening the implementation of the Gambling Control Bill is one of O’Reilly’s primary objectives.
“My hope for the book was that it might highlight the need to protect the vulnerable. The Irish government really needs to get this legislation in.
“I don’t blame Paddy Power at all, but the worrying thing is I never had any contact from them saying, ‘Listen, we think there might be a problem here’.
“This particular case has been highlighted because of all the zeros, but it is relative to anyone. Procedures need to be in place to help people.”
Also, samaritans.org provides an invaluable service for people struggling to cope. Don't suffer in silence.
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