Charity begins at Hilton Casinos

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The Independent Online

Hilton Casinos is considering a plan to divert a proportion of its profits to charity in an attempt to persuade the Government to relax the industry's severe regulatory regime.

Hilton Casinos is considering a plan to divert a proportion of its profits to charity in an attempt to persuade the Government to relax the industry's severe regulatory regime.

The proposal, which has been included in the company's submission to the Government's Gaming Review, is designed to expose the severity with which casinos are treated in comparison with the National Lottery. In common with other operators, Hilton Casinos is eager to enjoy the more liberal advertising rights that have helped fuel the feverish public interest in the Lottery.

The casino industry already helps to finance GamCare, an organisation gauging the social impact of gambling, and has funded academic studies into compulsive gambling. However, operators like Hilton are willing to extend their philanthropy if the review addresses their main concerns.

As well as having their advertising restricted to the classified sections of newspapers, British casinos are currently precluded from offering live entertainment. There are also strict limits on the number of gaming machines they can provide and the maximum bonuses they can pay. A so-called 24-hour rule dictates that customers wishing to become members of a casino must apply a day before they can actually set foot inside.

However, there is some disagreement within the industry over gaming duty. Hilton Casinos is understood to be willing to countenance higher duty in return for a looser regulatory regime, while other operators are determined the recent rise in the tax should be the last.

The results of the review are critical to the industry's major operators, including London Clubs and Rank, who are eager to extend their appeal beyond their existing constituency.

The resentment felt by the casino industry at the Gaming Board's harsh regime has been exacerbated by the launch of the National Lottery, regulated by the National Lottery Commission. The British Casino Association, which represents most of the UK's 118 outlets, would like the Lottery to be controlled by the same regulatory body.

The Gaming Review is also studying the question of offshore betting. Customs & Excise last week revealed that betting tax revenue had been reduced by punters patronising tax-free operations outside the UK. However, rather than penalise the offshore centres, bookmakers are calling for a cut in betting tax to encourage punters to bet domestically.

The review is being conducted by an independent body chaired by Sir Alan Budd, the former chief economic adviser to the Treasury. Its conclusions are likely to be announced in the spring.

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