Brown plans tax raid on super-casinos

Casino operators will have to pay high taxes to cover the social effects of gambling, it has emerged. The Chancellor will use tomorrow’s Budget to announce a new set of charges on super-casinos.

The move amounts to a vote of no confidence in Tessa Jowell’s project to liberalise the gambling laws and allow Las Vegas- style gaming resorts in Britain.

Mr Brown will announce that any company approved to build a super- casino will have to pay a massive tax on every machine installed.

A measure to be unveiled tomorrow will leave operators facing a tax bill of GBP 5,000 for every „Class A“ gambling machine – which could mean up to £6.25m just to set up a facility.

Existing casinos will see the tax they pay for limited jackpot machines go up sharply – from GBP 1,900 to about GBP 2,400.

The extra money raised will be used to abolish tax on small-scale gaming machines in an attempt to encourage the survival of family-run arcades in seaside towns.

The raid on big casinos will be seen as a deliberate attempt by Mr Brown to sabotage Miss Jowell’s hopes for a gambling revolution by making the set-up costs prohibitive.

But critics are likely to attack the move as too little too late to prevent vastly wealthy and often foreignbased firms from entering the lucrative British market.

Mr Brown is known to have been deeply uneasy about the scandal that engulfed Miss Jowell after her husband was accused of accepting a bribe from Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi.

He is also said to be unhappy about the way the Government has allowed itself to become identified with all-night drinking and gambling through the law reforms overseen by the Culture Secretary.

Allies said Mr Brown, the son of a Presbyterian minister, has been alarmed by the Government’s support for an industry he believes causes severe social harm.

He has rejected intense lobbying from the industry to cut the gaming levy – the tax sion to allow new resorts to have up to 1,250 „Class A“ gambling machines with unlimited jackpots, which are considered highly addictive.

At GBP 5,000 a time, this could produce an immediate tax bill of GBP 6.25m to set up one massive casino.

Downing Street has already signalled that the cap of one super-casino could be lifted if gambling watchdog Peter Dean decides there is a case for allowing more.

Miss Jowell initially wanted to allow eight giant casinos, but was forced to cut this to one in the face of massive public and political opposition.

Richard Caborn, the sports minister responsible for gambling, has said more big casinos could be permitted ‚if there is a mood change and the demand is there‘.

Mr Dean has indicated that he would be willing to regulate eight super-casinos. So far, up to 50 councils have expressed an interest in opening such complexes.

The frontrunners are Blackpool, Birmingham and Manchester. Smaller authorties such as Canterbury, North Somerset and Dumfries & Galloway are also candidates. Social experts say the economic cost of problem gambling to a local community is between GBP 15million and £61m a year.

They fear the number of addicts will double to around 700,000 by 2010, with almost 40 per cent of the increase directly caused by the Gambling Act.

The Government has published measures designed to combat any rise in the number gambling addicts. Earlier this month, draft rules were announced which would see operators required to ban people who show signs of becoming problem gamblers.

The guidelines include strict procedures for preventing underage gambling and ensuring online operators make their customers aware of how much time and money they have spent on websites.