Labour puts its money on bingo

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The Independent Online
THE Labour party wants to come to the rescue of the bingo industry, which is another victim of the National Lottery's runaway success.

Roll-over fever and scratch cards have bitten deeply into attendances at bingo halls and the shadow Treasury spokeswoman, Dawn Primarolo, will this week ask the Government to reduce bingo betting duty from 10 per cent to 8.5 per cent.

Before the advent of lottery mania, three million people played bingo every year, supporting an industry that employed 35,000 people, had a turnover of pounds 600m and paid pounds 80m a year in betting taxes.

But admissions are down by as much as 20 per cent, and 35 bingo clubs employing 1,500 people have closed down in the past six months.

Joanna Broderick, secretary-general of the Bingo Association, has written to the Treasury to warn: "The existence of the industry is threatened."

Labour has tabled a new clause to the Finance Bill now going through the Commons which would extend to bingo clubs the 1.5 per cent betting tax cut already given to horse racing, the football pools and dog racing in recognition of the huge impact of the lottery.

"Bingo clubs fulfil a social role," said Ms Primarolo. "If the Government can reduce betting duty to help the owners of thoroughbred racehorses, they can help the old ladies who play bingo."

If the Government accepts the change, bingo will be pounds 11.5m a year better off, and the club operators have given a promise that the extra cash will go entirely into boosting the size of prizes, which have come under pressure because of falling attendances.

Under licensing arrangements governing the game, a fixed percentage of each card goes to prize money, and as admissions fall operators have been using money set aside for running the clubs to prop up the level of winnings.

The Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, may be inclined to show some sympathy towards the bingo players. The club in his own Nottinghamshire constituency, Rushcliffe, which attracts 10,000 players (who also vote) a year and employs 45 people, is said to be "very close to closing".