By legalizing online gaming, it hopes to bring betting companies in from offshore — and bring tax revenues home
It doesn’t have any ritzy Vegas-style casinos — at least not yet. But Britain has gone mad for betting. Newsstands are crammed with glossy gambling magazines and a national daily newspaper devoted entirely to games of chance launched last month. Some cable and satellite channels air nothing but poker and casino games. This year Britain even opened the world’s first casino college, where croupier trainees learn the tricks of the trade. Now, the government hopes to make Britain the global hub of online gambling.
Britain has already laid out the welcome mat for online betting firms which allow customers to wager electronically on everything from horses and soccer matches to the winners of reality TV shows and the Oscars. Such Web sites are operated legally by traditional street-corner bookies like Ladbrokes and William Hill, as well as by Web upstarts such as Sportingbet, UKbetting, and Betfair. They pay 15% of their gross profits in tax. So far, that’s been a pretty good bet for the government: Tax proceeds have topped $2.5 billion for the Treasury since 2004.
Now Britain is set to increase the stakes. Parliament has enacted sweeping new legislation that will open up the online market, starting next year, to traditional casino games such as poker, blackjack, and roulette. Britons already play such games by the millions, but the companies offering them are based in offshore tax havens such as Gibraltar, the Channel Islands, and Costa Rica. The government hopes that by becoming the first country in the developed world to legalize online gambling, it can lure offshore outfits to locate on British soil and pump even more revenues into public coffers.
BETTING LEADER. It’s a huge opportunity. Bookmaking has been legal in Britain for nearly 50 years, and the British are notorious for their love of betting. But the Internet has drawn in millions of new punters who never would have set foot in the betting shops found in every British town. …