Jackpot! Bookies avoid £1bn tax
Big gambling firms are using tax havens – and Treasury still hasn't closed loophole
Following stints with Reuters and the Press Association, Martin Hickman joined The Independent as a news editor in 2001. He became the Consumer Affairs Correspondent in September 2005 and has run the paper's trenchant campaigns on packaging, bank charges and factory-farmed chicken. He writes on subjects as diverse as food, finance, energy and fashion. With Tom Watson, he is author of a new book on the phone hacking scandal, Dial M for Murdoch - News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain.
Friday 01 February 2013
Bookmakers and casinos have avoided paying around £1bn in UK tax on bets placed by British people by routing them through subsidiaries based in overseas tax havens, The Independent can reveal.
Football, racing and poker betting operators are estimated to be saving around £250m a year by offshoring online gambling – more than the highly publicised recent cases of tax avoidance by Starbucks and Amazon.
Although William Hill and Ladbrokes are UK Plcs with hundreds of high street branches, bets placed on their websites and phone lines are regulated and taxed in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar.
Other big names such as Betfair, PaddyPower and 888 – which heavily market their games in the UK – also avoid paying British tax on "remote" betting and gaming.
The offshoring, which has grown in recent years, allows operators to replace the UK gambling duty of 15 per cent on gross profits with an effective rate of duty of less than one per cent.
An investigation by The Independent has found that all of the top 10 operators in "remote gambling" now headquarter a part or all of their operations in Gibraltar, the Isle of Man or Guernsey – at a cost to the Treasury of £1bn in lost duty since 2009.
The figures dwarf the tens of millions of pounds of tax avoided by Starbucks and Amazon, which have attracted heavy criticism for minimising corporation tax through the use of sweetheart deals in Luxembourg and Switzerland. Yet the Treasury – which is imposing cuts to public services as part of the Government's austerity drive – does not intend to close the betting duty loophole for almost two years.
It is currently consulting on a new gambling duty centred on "point of consumption" – taxing where the bet was placed – rather than where it was taken ("point of supply"), with the intention of introducing the change in December 2014.
The top indigenous British bookmakers say that for years they tried to warn the Government they were being pushed offshore by the UK's "uncompetitive" tax rate in an increasingly global trade.
However, they are also aware that publicity about the amount of money being diverted from the Exchequer by their move to Gibraltar and other places could play badly with the public.
In a statement, William Hill, which saves an estimated £37m annually in betting duty, vigorously denied it was "engaged in any avoidance scheme or artificial tax structure".
Ladbrokes, which saves around £18m annually, said it had only moved offshore reluctantly "to survive and compete".
However, disclosure of the scale of the money lost to the UK Government across the entire industry is likely to provoke anger, at a time of austerity caused by a growing deficit in the public finances. Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research, said: "This indicates, yet again, the toothless approach of the UK's tax authorities to tax avoidance."
Signs that gambling taxation would fail to tackle the rise of the internet first emerged a decade ago. To counter growing foreign competition from gaming sites headquartered in Gibraltar and Malta, in 2001 Gordon Brown replaced betting duty of 6.75 per cent on stake money to a 15 per cent duty on bookmakers' gross profits.
Leading British bookies were widely reported to have entered into a "gentlemen's agreement" with the then Chancellor to move their putative offshore operations back on shore – which they did. But, undercut by rivals based in tax havens, particularly those operating casino sites, in 2009 William Hill, Ladbrokes and SkyBet moved their online and phone business offshore. In 2011, Betfair, the fast-growing betting exchange, joined the exodus by relocating to Gibraltar, telling investors it expected to save £20m in tax annually. Only two major UK gambling companies – Bet365, a family firm based in Stoke-on-Trent, and Sky – pay UK duty on sports betting, although their casino games are located, respectively, in Gibraltar and Alderney.
The Government's current plan is to force companies taking bets from Britons to obtain a licence from the Gambling Commission or risk having their websites and advertising blocked. However the Treasury, which would have to enact the change in a parliamentary Bill, does not expect to introduce the change before December next year and is still considering the results of a consultation which closed last summer.
Several gambling companies are fiercely opposed to the move, arguing that a 15 per cent rate would endanger a British success story.
Other operators back the change in an industry associated with social problems. The Coates family, which owns Bet365, wants the new tax to be introduced as quickly as possible. Ian Burke, chief executive of Blue Square-owner Rank Group, told The Independent that the current system of taxation was "indefensible". The Treasury defended its record, saying: "The Government is levelling the playing field on remote gambling taxation. This is a major reform, and the first time a UK Government is taxing remote gambling companies with no base in the UK."
Labour's shadow Treasury spokeswoman, Catherine McKinnell, said: "The offshore gambling industry is making massive profits from tax-paying UK punters and yet hundreds of millions of pounds are potentially being lost to the Exchequer at the same time as ordinary taxpayers are being hit hard by cuts and tax rises.
"It isn't just UK taxpayers who are paying the price – responsible firms who have remained in the UK and employ thousands of people are at an unfair disadvantage. The Government should be straining every sinew to clamp down on aggressive tax avoidance, and loopholes, as quickly as possible."
Mr Murphy added that the Treasury's approach of working in co-operation with business to secure tax agreements was "not working".
"We know it failed in the case of banking where Barclays ignored their deal with HMRC months after they signed it," he said. "Now we can see that the negotiated arrangements with the gambling industry – where they were given all the concessions they demanded – haven't worked."
Addicted Britain: A growing epidemic
Gambling addiction has soared in the UK, fuelled by the rapid growth of online betting.
The number of hardcore addicts has doubled in the past six years to almost 500,000. The number of people in danger of becoming problem gamblers, meanwhile, has reached nearly a million.
One of the areas that has seen the biggest is online gambling.
Around nine million Britons will gamble online this year. The UK online gambling industry is expected to be worth more than £2bn in 2013. The boom was brought about in part by a relaxation of laws regulating the industry under a shake-up by Tony Blair's government in 2005.
The Gambling Act allowed bookmakers to advertise in the UK for the first time.
Charities have been critical of celebrities glamorising gambling through endorsements. The Australian cricketer Shane Warne promotes gambling to his one million Twitter followers through his @Warne888 handle – he signed a lucrative deal in 2008 with the 888 Poker group to represent the company at events around the world. Ray Winstone became the face of bet365 and regularly features at half-time during games urging people to "bet in play, now".
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
- 1 Amy Winehouse statue unveiled in Camden
- 2 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 3 George Galloway on Scottish independence: The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
- 4 Headaches, fry ups, and hair of the dog - why do we get hangovers, and is there such thing as a 'cure'?
- 5 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
George Galloway on Scottish independence: The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained in Los Angeles after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Scottish independence: Britain faces 'constitutional crisis' at next election
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
iJobs Money & Business
£280 - £320 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...
£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...
£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Coordinator / Pl...
Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)
£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...
Day In a Page
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony