Sportingbet's move offshore (englisch)

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Peter Dean, chairman of the UK's Gambling Commission is on record as saying that whilst he believed most responsible gambling companies would want the cachet and the respectability that a licence from the Commission would provide, there would also have to be an attractive tax rate in place, if such companies were to be lured back onshore.

A week before Budget Day 2007 the somewhat bombastic Daily Telegraph had proudly trumpeted;

"In a surprise move, the Chancellor will use the Budget to announce that in return for a small amount of tax - possibly as low as 2pc or 3pc - companies can obtain a UK licence and still remain based overseas. The new tax will be called Remote Gaming Duty. This compromise would allow gambling companies to avoid British VAT."

John O'Reilly, the head of online gambing at Ladbrokes was quoted as saying that he was pleased with the deal, which he described as "quite a breakthrough," whilst Clive Hawkswood, the chief executive of the Remote-Gambling Authority, justified a low rate of tax on the grounds that "these companies have grown up in zero tax jurisdictions. They operate on very thin profit margins. A 15pc gambling duty would wipe out half the industry overnight."

When the 2007 Budget arrived, the Chancellor Gordon Brown, took everybody somewhat by surprise, by announcing that the rate of remote gambling duty would actually be set at 15%;

" Following consultation with affected business, Finance Bill 2007 will introduce a new duty of excise known as Remote Gaming Duty on the net receipts of all operators licenced by the Gambling Commission. The rate of Remote Gambling Duty will be set at 15%, in line with the rate of General Betting Duty."

On 28 March 2007 Sportingnbet said that in so far as there still remained considerable uncertainty surrounding the precise operational requirements of the 2005 UK Gambling Act, it had concluded that its most prudent course of action was to transfer those activities that it anticipates may be covered by the Act to a jurisdiction that has a more defined regulatory environment; namely, the Channel Islands.

Sportingbet's decision has not come as any surprise to those familiar with the company's mindset. Indeed, over the past two years the company has made clear its reservations regarding both regulatory uncertainty and "the likely high tax rates in the UK."

When announcing their results for the twelve months ended 31 July 2005, for example, Sportingbet said as regards the Gambling Act of 2005;

"In the UK, the Gambling Act 2005 was passed through Parliament in April. The Act introduced much needed statutory controls in relation to the online gambling industry and will enable companies (when fully implemented) to obtain a remote gambling licence. The Act remains unclear in a number of areas, for example, which activities are intended to be included and licensed within the UK under the Act. The Board believes that this lack of clarity, and the consequential inability for parts of the industry to conduct proper business planning, combined with the likely high tax rates in the UK, is unlikely to result in many operators relocating onshore."

And when announcing preliminary results for the twelve months ended 31 July 2006, Sportingbet said;

"In the UK, the Gambling Act moves nearer to full implementation (scheduled for September 2007). Accordingly, the Gambling Commission continues to consult with the industry on the content of the numerous regulations that will supplement the Gambling Act. The Board has been actively involved in the consultation process. The tax rates that will be imposed on UK-licensed operators under the Gambling Act remain undecided and, as a result, there will not necessarily be an influx of operators into the UK on its implementation. Indeed, the reverse may well be the case as UK operators seek lower taxes offshore."

In an interview with Accountancy Age, Martin Weigold of PartyGaming summed up a belief commonly held by most remote gambling companies and industry analysts;

"I think a 15% remote gaming levy on worldwide income, along with corporation tax of 28% is unlikely to lead to the relocation of many online gaming companies to the UK from other jurisdictions, which already have regulatory and licensing regimes in place....Whilst there are other countries like Gibraltar, Antigua and Alderney that offer licensing coupled with competitive tax regimes, I think that will prove a tough call.'

In many respects there remain two unknowns; firstly, whether the likes of Ladbrokes, William Hill and Betfair will be prepared to absorb such an uncompetitive remote gambling tax rate (intense competition in the online poker and casino sectors, suggest that it would be commercial suicide for them to do so) and secondly; just who will Peter Dean and the mob at the Gambling Commission actually be regulating?


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