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Labour’s sports betting levy will hit poor punters

24 July 2014

Harriet Harman has set the hare running this morning by proposing a levy on sports betting. The shadow sports minister Clive Efford said:

We believe it is right that businesses that make money from sport should contribute to sport. We are consulting on whether we should introduce a levy on betting, including online betting, to fund gambling awareness and support for problem gambling but also to improve community sports facilities and clubs.’

Harman and Efford have also singled out the Premier League. They propose that its voluntary levy on broadcast deals (worth £5.5bn) be turned into a ‘proper tax’, which would raise £275m for grassroots football.

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The improvement of grass roots sport is a noble ambition, and one supported by the gambling industry. A spokesman from William Hill told The Spectator that the company ‘welcomed all initiatives’ to improve local and school sport, but questioned the existing funding model. ‘We don’t think that the problem should be passed on to us,’ the spokesman said. And here’s why. The gambling industry contributes more than £1bn to the Treasury, with a further £400 million expected to be raised next year thanks to initiatives announced at the last Budget.

The politics of this Labour proposal are confused. Premier League football is, for the most part, a middle class activity. The best season tickets at Tottenham Hotspur, for example, cost £1,320. A Sky Sports subscription, for instance, costs more than £500 a year. I suspect that a levy on the league would be a popular move in some parts of the country: the last time I was in Newcastle, several fans of the Magpies told me that Sky and the Premier League had wrecked English football by concentrating wealth in the hands of a few big or fashionable clubs, which was having an adverse effect on smaller clubs, the lower leagues and grassroots. Furthermore, people who buy season tickets and subscriptions could probably afford a small hike in prices to cover the cost of the new levies. That’s not to say that the levies would be equitable: as Guido points out the Premier League already pays £1.3bn in tax, which seems plenty.

When it comes to sports betting, those who attend Premier League football or watch it on subscription TV are not the only punters in town. Gambling is, for the most part, a working class (or workless class) activity. Most of those who gamble regularly (either at the bookies’ or online) do not have £1,320 to splurge on a season ticket. A visit to your local high street betting shop will confirm this — or, better still, read Mike Atherton’s excellent history of gambling. He describes a class of people who gamble for the thrill of it (winning is rare) and to watch live sport at a bookies’. Few of them have a ‘problem’ — save for a lack of opportunity and affluence. The likelihood is that they will pay for this proposed tax.

Tory spinners are rather pleased with Harman’s announcement. It confirms their narrative that Labour’s only idea is to raise your taxes in order to avoid ‘tough decisions’ on the public finances. It’s an effective if easy line. The greater challenge for the Tories is to explain why this proposal in particular shows Labour to be out of touch with the very people it claims to represent. Not the smart professional who goes to White Hart Lane every fortnight; but the happy go lucky punter who goes to Ladbrokes every day.

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  • swatnan

    They said the same about taxing smoking beer and the dogs and the Lottery.
    That it’ll hit the poor working man most. But I wouldn’t bet on that at all.

  • Seldom Seen

    Psst! Harriet! There’s already a levy on betting, you numpty. It’s called (clever this) ‘The Levy’. However, I suppose if you’re married to a man who went on TV the day after the last general election to say Labour had won, you’re always going to have a few problems with understanding the simple things in life.

  • fundamentallyflawed

    Betting companies already pay tax and the Tories are introducing a consumption tax to try and get international companies to contribute as well. This “levy” is just another tax to prop up their spending plans

    • Mynydd

      Do you mean the consumption tax introduced by the Tories was just another tax to prop up their spending plans.

      • fundamentallyflawed

        No. Point of consumption tax is an important principle in an industry that requires no physical contact beyond an internet connection. It help to combat offshore gambling by making sure that you cannot simply skim off UK custom by siting your servers in a tax haven with favourable tax laws. Its already implemented in various forms by Spain, Aus, Italy etc etc.

        It is not an additional tax but an equalization of international tax law

  • saffrin

    How unlike labour to think up new taxes.
    Taxes and wastage.

    • Inverted Meniscus

      Never forget the Labour manifesto: ‘ we know how to spend your money and regulate every facet of your life better than you do. We are morally perfect and so be grateful and shut up or else’

    • The Masked Marvel

      A cost which will only be passed on to the punters. Typical Labour scheme, all about the visual whilst harming the poorest and most vulnerable they claim to defend.

  • Normalbloke

    Last week Labour had faux outrage on tax claiming not going to increase them. This week a new tax is announced. Same old Liebour – the tax and spend party. Remember it’s not government money it’s our money, our money paid from our income . How come they don’t look for reducing spending elsewhere to pay for increased spending or better still cut taxes and let people spend where they wished, after all they earnt the money! Ii’ll tell you why, it’s in their DNA to tax and spend!

    • Inverted Meniscus

      I thnk that should read tax, spend and waste other people’s money.

  • david trant

    Dreadful suggestion next thing y’know they’ll be taxing Oligarchs who want to put 160 grand on a tennis match, fight it to the bitter end.

    • GraveDave

      Sometimes I think it’s less about an unpopular policy than the person behind it. Unfortunately it was Hattie I think Labour should seriously consider putting her out to grass. She really is a liability.

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