Customs gives red card to fantasy football

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The Independent Online
NEXT TIME Ryan Giggs scores three points for Sheffield Week-on- Thursday and thousands of other fantasy football teams around the country, the taxman may be cheering too.

The craze for fantasy sports leagues has caught the eye of Customs and Excise, and some newspaper competitions where readers select their own dream teams and score points for players' performances are breaking the law by not paying betting duty.

Many fantasy leagues are a form of gambling, Customs and Excise will say today. Promoters need a Customs permit before they start running the competitions and are liable to pay pool betting duty, a 37.5 per cent tax on the stake competitors pay.

The fantasy phenomenon began last year as a circulation drive by some newspapers. The pioneer, the Daily Telegraph, signed 300,000 people up as managers in its competition. The paper said it had confirmed with Customs and Excise that its game was not liable for duty.

Three features determine whether or not fantasy leagues are a form of gambling: entry fees, including the need to use premium rate telephone lines; the use of entrants' selections to determine the winner; and prizes, which range from travel and match tickets to pounds 100,000 in cash.

Customs and Excise has not started any prosecutions, but has presented retrospective bills to a number of publications.