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NICK HAWKINS
new taxes. If they find a tax which will ‘get their own leisure industry is huge, taken as a whole, and very
back’ specifically on Rank, great – but even if not, significant for ‘UK plc’. However, even if that ‘best
any part of the gambling insdustry being hit will do; case’ doesn’t happen, and if gambling stays linked to
it will gladden the hearts of the top HMRC officials. Sport, that may not be so bad since the Shadow
Worse still, there will even be some issues on which Minister for Sport is the excellent Hugh Robertson
there will be specific Tory people putting forward MP, who should get the job in Government as he
plans which will be music to HMRC’s ears. Lord has such a good reputation after six years of
Blackwell, once the chief policy adviser to John responsibility for it in Opposition (he took over from
Major during Major’s premiership, has been a very me!). Unfortunately some of the others who could be
vocal campaigner in the Lords against fixed-odds given the responsibility have proved less effective in
betting terminals [FOBTs]. There may also be Opposition, neither bothering to understand the
further attempts by some in a new Government to industry properly, nor really caring.
have a further ‘attack’ on internet gambling but
since Gordon Brown’s high taxes drove the vast bulk Finally, what must the industry do to try to
of it offshore anyway, it is difficult to see what “future-proof” with a view to a possible change of
measures from a new Government would make any Government? There is one big issue I hear loud and
difference. (Unless they reduced the taxes, which clear from all those to whom I speak: “stop the
seems very unlikely in the current economic climate, internal squabbling”. If the machine industry or
revenue-raising through bringing some of the casino people spend their time attacking remote
industry back onshore would be seen as ‘high gambling, or vice versa, nothing will be achieved. All
political risk’ given the hostilty it would stir up from the trade bodies for all of the gambling sector must
the Daily Mail and others.) work together, and make a coherent case to a new
Government for what could be a “win-win” for UK
What with all that, and the danger that a new Tory
Government might, subject to the points below,
actually tighten regulation when , as they have
All the trade bodies for all of
committed to doing, they merge the Gambling
the gambling sector must
Commission, the National Lottery Commission (and
perhaps horserace betting regulation as well) there’s
work together, and make a
a lot of potential bad news to be worked on.
coherent case to a new
So, having set out the potential problems, what
Government for what could
could the upside be? Starting with that last point, if
be a “win-win” for UK plc
the Minister in charge of the “bonfire of the
quangos” really takes it seriously and follows through
and the industry
on the detail (and Cameron could do worse than put
a real free-marketeer, from a business background,
and an earlier generation in charge of this – John plc and the industry, for an improved and cheaper
Redwood would be excellent) regulatory costs and but more effective taxation and regulatory system. If
burdens could actually go down. This will only new Ministers have to spend time in meeting after
happen if there is real commitment to this, not just meeting, on the same issues, with many
rhetoric, and the industry can really help by keeping organisations obsessed by internal turf wars within
up the pressure on a Cameron Government and the industry, they will quickly conclude “a plague on
speaking with a single voice. The Cameron team have all your houses” and decide for themselves which
made many commitments to reduce regulatory way to go – which might well not be the way the
burdens – and only if their feet are held to the fire to industry wants. Some in the industry are already
deliver on these will it actually happen. putting out a message; Rank Group have put
together a very good paper on the subject of
Next, there is the issue of which Ministerial simplifying taxation. However, for reasons set out
department gambling will be covered by? David earlier, Rank might not be the most likely company
Cameron has said he will have fewer Ministries than to succeed with this – and however good the case
there have been under Labour, (since, under Blair for simplification, (and in normal times I think most
and Brown, the size of “the Government” has grown Tories would be very sympathetic) it may be a
and grown). The very worst option, if the current difficult “sell” in the current economic climate. If
Department of Culture, Media and Sport is broken such plans are put forward in future, all the big
up (as seems quite possible) would be for Gambling companies and trade associations doing so together,
to be moved back to the Home Office, as a “policing if this could be achieved, would give them their best
of vice” issue, as once it was. If there isn’t a DCMS or chance of being warmly received.
equivalent for Gambling to come under, the ideal
solution would be for it to be handled by a This could be a “once in a generation” opportunity
“Business” department, with more clout in Cabinet for the industry to work with a potentially helpful
than DCMS has had. This could well happen. The Government – miss it at your peril.
MARCH 2010 25
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