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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 16:35 GMT
UK gaming rule bid 'not tax grab'
Tessa Jowell
Ms Jowell has criticised the US ban on internet betting

The government's attempt to regulate the online gambling industry is not a bid to "grab" tax revenue, Sports Minister Richard Caborn has said.

Instead of banning it as in the US, the UK is to be the first major country to offer online gaming licences.

Mr Caborn says the move is designed to protect punters and rid online gambling of crime - not to "grab" tax revenue.

He was speaking at the opening of the first international summit to discuss the global impact of online gambling.

About one million people in Britain gamble regularly online
This represents almost a third of the 3.3 million across Europe
European gamblers spend 3.5bn a year on online gambling - more than 1,000 each on average
There are more than 2,000 gambling sites around the world, of which 537 are in Antigua and 474 in Costa Rica
The UK hosts 70 sites, but none of these offer gaming, such as poker or roulette
Women represent an increasingly large part of the online gambling market, accounting for 30% of visits to UK sites during the World Cup
Source: Independent study for DCMS

About 70 online sports betting sites are based in the UK but there are currently no online gaming sites, offering poker, blackjack and other games.

Most of these are based in off-shore in tax havens such as Gibraltar, Antigua and Costa Rica.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has said she hoped some firms would now consider moving to the UK - which she said would be seen as a "hallmark of quality" for online gaming.

She agreed there would be potential tax benefits for the UK but insisted the government's regulatory bid was mainly driven by public protection.

"The benefit to the economy is less important than our priority of protecting UK citizens," she told reporters at the summit.

Treasury deal

Mr Caborn admitted some companies could be reluctant to operate under such a tight regulatory structure.

"We have not gone round the world (to online gambling firms) and said, 'Will you come back to the UK'. Whether they come on board or not is another issue," he told the gambling conference at Ascot racecourse.

He said it would be down to the Treasury to come up with a tax deal that would prove attractive to operators - or not.

Adults should be permitted to waste their hard-earned cash in whatever way they see fit
Red Planet

"You can either tax them in, or tax them out," he told the BBC News website.

Under the UK government's plans, a Gambling Commission would vet sites, giving official approval to those with the best working practices.

Operators would not be allowed to target children and would have to keep customers informed about how much money they had spent.


Key staff, such as managing directors and finance managers, would also be checked for links to organised crime.

Adrian Scarfe from Gamcare, an organisation which offers advice to gamblers, said he welcomed the moves.

"I think it's a complicated and ambitious project the government has started on but I think well worth doing," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

Separate moves are also underway to secure an international agreement that would protect gamblers using sites registered in countries other than the UK.

Ms Jowell and Mr Caborn spent the day in talks with representatives from 33 different countries and are hoping to agree a communique by the end of the day setting out the shared regulatory principles upon which all 33 agree.

Ms Jowell told reporters that there was an "international appetite" to agree a regulatory structure and the ministers were hopeful of a consensus by the end of the day.

The communique sets out the broad aims of legislation in individual countries - including protecting children making gambling "fair to the consumer" and "not a source of crime".

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US gambling law flawed - Jowell
27 Oct 06 |  UK Politics
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