Fiscal stability in regulated markets would be a nice gift. Disturbingly, regulated jurisdictions under financial pressure seem to be looking at gambling companies as cash cows. In the UK, remote duties are to be increased to compensate the Exchequer for the diminution in revenue consequent upon the forthcoming FOBT restrictions. In the Netherlands, a beefy 29% rate of duty seems all but inevitable if and when that interminable legislative process finally results in licenses being issued. In Romania, latest suggestions are that a financially-challenged government is looking at a retrospective levy on deposits made by players with gambling licensees as a means of plugging a public sector deficit. In France, no commentator from any sector of the industry, including the regulator, sees their turnover tax as anything other than the perfect catalyst for a massive grey market. Every jurisdiction has its state lottery providers but governments’ desperate thirst for tax revenues can’t be slaked even by those giants. Please nice politicians, understand that sensible rates of duty deliver you more money at the end of the day and also deliver more of your citizens into the hands of businesses whom you licence and regulate and out of the hands of those you can’t!
Another nice stocking-filler would be some moral approval, or at least neutrality. In the UK parliament the political reaction to the Government’s decision to postpone the implementation of FOBT restrictions was swift and explosive: a minister resigned by way of a hysterical letter which referred to “two people taking their lives every day” due to gambling and which received the support of no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as pretty much the whole British press. In reality, British rates of problem gambling have remained stubbornly static ever since the advent of digital interactivity. That, however, is an unfashionable truth, as is the fact that the major British brands are in many cases public companies and household names that have provided entertainment to the public for decades. Nor are newcomers to the market negligent of their social obligations. Many operators provide plentiful, well-paid, high-tech jobs whilst offering players the highest standards of responsibility in gambling. But – in the words of Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, the official Parliamentary opposition party at present – the picture is in fact one of the “greed” of “corporate interests” devastating the lives of its “victims” and harming “public health”. Current opinion-formers need to turn the dial down on the frothing rhetoric and look instead at the evidence. A lot of it is good. Is gambling perfect? No, and it likely never will be, but please nice politicians, let’s in 2019 stop talking about it as if it’s return of the Black Death!
The industry might also give itself a little present and that might be a bit of restraint around sports advertising. Almost all of the unjustified political and press heat-and-light has come from the sheer volume and shrillness of advertising around sport. In any interaction with any politician of any persuasion it rapidly becomes apparent that their views on gambling are based entirely on perception rather than any considered analysis. Unfortunately some of the advertising does create the impression that the industry is pushing people in a certain direction. Hence, the tiny but vocal anti-gambling brigade have a nice, open, political door not to have to push against. So please, nice chief advertising directors, cool it down a bit for 2019!
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