Outlook Had you been walking past the Maidenhead headquarters of Rank last night you might just have heard the odd cry of "house". The leisure group yesterday secured its third triumph in a week over the Treasury and HM Revenue & Customs who for years have had it in for the bingo industry in which it is a major player.
Not only did the Chancellor last week reveal that he was cutting bingo duty to 20 per cent – in line with the taxes on other forms of gaming at last – but the Treasury also said later that it would allow bingo companies to make claims for over-paid VAT following a legal dispute over how they had previously been charged. Now HMRC has been forced to make a similar climbdown over amusement machines. The total gain from all three wins for Rank alone could be £45m.
Why has Mr Darling suddenly gone soft on bingo operators? Well, on the two VAT rulings, tax tribunals have forced his hand and their decisions could still be appealed. But that little pre- Budget report goodie – practically the only giveaway in the entire package – will cost only £5m a year in lost revenue and gave the impression that the Chancellor wasn't entirely lacking in heart. Rank's number has come up.