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Tyrone gaming Tycoon Nigel Eccles 'hid behind sofa' as business slammed on US TV


Lampooned: Nigel Eccles

Lampooned: Nigel Eccles

Lampooned: Nigel Eccles

Northern Ireland gaming tycoon Nigel Eccles has admitted that having his controversial fantasy sports business lampooned on American television was "painful to watch".

Cookstown native Eccles - whose company was recently valued at over $1bn - was targeted by outspoken comedian John Oliver on his popular Last Week Tonight show.

Eccles' FanDuel business, along with rival company DraftKings, is currently involved in heated regulatory battles in the US over the legality of the product, which offers cash prizes for pay-to-play fantasy sports contests. Some American regulators regard it as pure gambling, and Oliver pulled no punches in a rant which Eccles later admitted had him "hiding behind the sofa".

At one point English-born Oliver likened the business and its gambling-like entry fees to hardcore drugs.

"Daily fantasy is the same as season-long fantasy, the way a nice mug of tea is the same as a nice baggy of heroin," joked Oliver, whose satirical show often attracts 10m viewers.

"Both give you a lovely warm feeling. One is a little more intense," Oliver added.

"I did think it was funny, but I kind of hid behind the sofa when I watched it," admitted Eccles in a question and answer session at tech media giant Re/code's annual conference in California. "It was quite painful to watch."

Eccles - who co-founded FanDuel with his wife Lesley and three others - is the highest new entry on this year's Sunday Independent Rich List, which was published yesterday.

Ranked 39 out of 300, with a fortune totalling £273m, the 41-year-old is now Northern Ireland's richest man, worth less than only the Haughey family, proprietors of Norbrook (number 33), and Emmy-nominated actress Roma Downey (at 35).

Having grown up on a dairy farm in Co Tyrone before moving to America to work for McKinsey, the managing and consulting firm, Eccles developed FanDuel - a fantasy football and baseball site, which enables fans to make money by forecasting US sports - just over six years ago.

He is the company's chief executive, and Lesley, whom he met in 1995 when they were students at St Andrews University in Scotland, is executive vice-president.

The couple live in Edinburgh and have three children.

"I'm incredibly proud of the business we have developed and FanDuel's success is testament to the combined hard work and commitment of not only the co-founding team but also the talented teams we have built up in the UK and US offices," Mr Eccles told the Belfast Telegraph.

Fantasy sports are a massive and fast-growing business in America and FanDuel and competitor DraftKings have around 96% of the market.

Millions in the US use FanDuel to try to win prize money from a multi-million dollar pot. The company looks set to see revenues pass $2bn this year.

At the end of 2015 this newspaper predicted that Eccles was on course to be one of Northern Ireland's wealthiest-ever people, despite rarely commanding any column inches in the local media.

Belfast Telegraph