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UK GAMING
New battles ahead against
“the Revenue men”
Former UK Shadow Gambling Minister Nick Hawkins sorts the wheat
from the chaff in his bi-monthly column…
O
ne of my favourite “traditional songs” has down in its bunker and pretend that that all is well in
always been a Rudyard Kipling poem its parallel universe. It does not ever seem to realise
about smugglers in Cornwall, set to that repeating parrot-fashion (as Ministers tend to do
music, which begins, if I recall correctly: whenever asked) “we have a regulatory regime which
“Five and twenty ponies, trotting through is the best in the world” is pretty irrelevant if high
the dark; brandy for the parson and baccy for the taxes mean that whole sectors they could be
clerk; laces for a lady, letters for a spy; watch the wall regulating (and earning some UK tax from) simply are
my darling whilst the ‘gentlemen’ go by…” I know not going to be here! A clearer case of killing the
that this is a romantic view of folk who in some cases goose that potentially could lay the golden eggs
were exceptionally violent, lawless thugs… (and some would be difficult to find.
of my wife’s ancestors were Cornish coastguards who
would have battled against smugglers who were At least Gordon Brown’s loss for “UK plc” is good
sometimes also murderous wreckers of ships!). news for my very old and good friends in places like
However, there has always been a dichotomy in most Gibraltar (the Chief Minister there, the excellent
British people’s attitude to what is now “the HMRC”. Peter Caruana QC, and his colleagues, must be
Tax avoidance can be entirely lawful, if a scheme to metaphorically laughing all the way to the Gibraltar
achieve it is well-designed; tax evasion is a criminal Treasury, at the self-defeating idiocy of the Brown
offence. No-one wants to pay more tax than they have Government on this issue) and Alderney and Malta.
to – and if a Government is unpopular and there is a It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good!
strong feeling that “the Government is wasting our
money” on schemes, policies or actions many I’m very glad that I was fortunate enough to have
disagree with, the feeling of wanting to fight the close contacts in all these places during my time in
Nick Hawkins is a Barrister Revenue is greater. Government and Opposition. It is a heady experience
specialising in Gambling and for any UK politician to have the opportunity to
Leisure law. In his 13 years I am reflecting on this as some more of Gordon speak (as I did on several occasions as a Shadow
in Parliament previously, he Brown’s chickens from when he was Chancellor come Minister) to cheering crowds of around 30,000
held roles in Government and home to roost. Gordon and his minions in the people, most of the population of the Rock, on
Opposition, including Treasury (with the HMRC presumably fully engaged in National Day. The Gibraltar Government organise it
Shadow Solicitor-General the process), obviously didn’t think through the issue very skilfully – short speeches by politicians who are
and Shadow Sports Minister. fully that putting up UK gambling taxes to such high known friends of Gibraltar, and the Chief Minister, at
He is now Legal Director for figures in his last Budget as Chancellor would drive so the beginning of the celebrations – then a rock
a gaming company. many companies in our field to relocate offshore. concert for the rest of the day. As, in the UK, the
largest physically-present crowd most politicians ever
As I write this, we’ve just heard the news that both speak to live might be, these days, perhaps 1000 or
William Hill are moving their online business 1500 at a Party Conference, (as mass meetings of
offshore, and now Ladbroke’s too are relocating to thousands that those in Victorian times like
Gibraltar. I don’t blame them at all! I’ve been at Gladstone addressed really had all finished after
enough industry meetings with the Government and 1945), this really was the nearest I’ll ever have been to
civil servants where the big companies threatened to my teenage ambition to be a rock star! My visits to
do this – I’m only surprised it has taken so long! Malta, as Secretary of the All-Party Malta/UK
Parliamentary Group, and to Alderney and Guernsey
I went to quite a number of meetings, going well both in my time in the House and since, were less
back beyond two years ago, at which senior spectacular but equally useful!
Government people were present, at which the threat
to relocate offshore was explicitly made – unless the Since I believe that internet gambling will only
tax was cut – but this Government has tended (on grow, all these places will continue to prosper
this as on so many other issues) to try to hunker mightily – at the UK’s expense!
14 SEPTEMBER 2009
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