00:00 Saturday 04 July 2009  Written by Archon

Lenihans extra tax on bookies a non-runner!

IT was just like the old days. Like the time Taoiseach Don Berto told the Mahon Tribunal that part of the mysterious £15,459 held in his and his daughter's building society accounts during 1994 came from winning bets on the horses.

The absurd explanation had the nation chuckling for a few days. So, when Finance Minister Brian Lenihan announced last October that the Government intended to double the turnover tax levied on bookies to two per cent from one per cent, everyone smiled. What! Hit the pals, the bookies, the touts and the tipsters, the backbone of the Fianna Fail party! Never. The man was off his rocker.

We all guessed Lenihan's idea would be a non-runner (excuse the pun), even though the one per cent increase would have brought in forty million euros and even though the increase was still well below the 5% of a decade ago, before Charlie McCreevy began reducing it.

And, of course, the inevitable happened. The U-turn slid in almost unnoticed after a troop of turf accountants, holding half peeled onions to their eyes, tearfully pleaded with the Finance Minister that it was a act of folly to come the heavy on the nags, although it was kosher to penalise education, health and housing.

Hundreds of bookies' shops would close, they said, thousands would lose their jobs, the equine and greyhound industry would be irrevocably damaged, the sky would collapse and, as with the pygmies in the Amazon, a traditional 'way of life' (the chummy relationship between horses and politicos) would be endangered.

Representing an industry valued at more than three billion euros (excluding casinos), the Irish Independent Betting Officers' Association successfully presented the cast iron case that they would not be able to cope with the burden of an increased levy.

For instance, the Paddy Power company, which reported operating profits of €75.7 million in the past year, was faced with near ruin if the 2% levy were introduced.

'We'd be down over €9 million in profits,' they wailed. An emotional Lenihan tut-tutted, comforted the company's head honchos and said that would never do.

POWERFUL LOBBY

Biffo, partial to the odd fling, agreed and so the new levy was scrapped. But, by not acting on its budget promise, the government inadvertently slipped more than €40 million via tax breaks into the back pockets of one of the most powerful lobbies in the state. What a country!

Yeah, sure, Biffo and Lenihan gilded the lily with the feeble excuse that they were temporarily rowing back on the budget plan in order to carry out a study into online and 'phone betting which are not subject to any excise duty. Who believes that chestnut?

Well, our legislators do, because gambling is a topic that appears to be so complicated that they really can't get their simple heads around it. The lost revenue from online gambling is a case in point. The Dáil has yet to introduce any regulation of its activities, although online gambling represents about 10% of the Irish betting market, or €500 million. Other countries are tackling the problem. Our lot, forget it!

And then there's the casino industry about which absolutely nothing has been done. The casino business in Ireland properly belongs to the Wild West, because of the absence of controls. Casinos are little more than a get-rich-quick opportunity for a few people and, for others, a money launderer's paradise. Little wonder that McDowell wanted to shut every casino in the country!

Around 50 casinos exist - no one is quite sure of the number. Nor is anyone sure if they are acting illegally or not. If not deemed to be private members' clubs, they are illegal under the 1956 Act, but even that law was held up to ridicule after an establishment shut by the Gardai had the charge of unlawful gaming against it dismissed in a District Court earlier this year.

MISSING OUT ON MILLIONS

In the meantime casinos make millions - of which the Exchequer gets nothing. The loot that could be garnered from them in levies is being lost because Lenihan, Biffo and Justice Minister Dermot Ahern have not regulated the gambling dens nor amended the shadowy legislation that surrounds them.

By failing to regulate casino and online gambling and by not imposing proper excise duties across all of the horse and greyhound industry, they are missing out on significant tax revenue.

And that's unpardonable. Fianna Fail created the recession we're presently suffering. Now that we're well and truly in it, surely the politicos have noticed that gambling as a major vice is enjoying an astonishing upswing?

It's for the experts to confirm that the growth of gambling is a response to the economic crisis but, in the meantime, can it not be argued that while the politicos tolerate and encourage the gambling vice, they should also be snatching some of the profits for use in the interest of the public good? After all, the State's take from gambling might ameliorate the damage the vice does to people's lives and to society.

Yet, as the budget U-turn shows, the politicos don't want to take on the gambling industry. Is this because of moral scruples? Hardly. Deference to the pals? Possibly. Incompetence? Almost certainly.

TROOPING THE COLOUR

Ah well, times may be bad, but we can always join the British Army. The Six Counties may be occupied by a foreign power, but that has not stopped an expected 500 Irish soldier boys from taking the Queen's shilling.

What's more, according to the chief recruiting agent in the North, a Lieut. Col. Rafferty, 20% of the unfortunates will come from the Republic. The Brits are delighted to see the Paddies enlist because they're brainier. Some 40 percent of British recruits are thrown out as useless after six months compared to just 15 percent of the Irish getting the boot.

Isn't that something to be proud of?

NAVAL ENGAGEMENTS

On the other hand, those who don't end up in a bookie's shop or the British Army should consider the Irish Naval Service. It's the place to find a girl friend or vice versa, and much better than a dating agency.

In fact so romantic are the Haulbowline Matelots that officers have been alerted to the increasing number of relationships between officers (of both genders) and 'subordinates'.

They've been told that indiscreet or compromising sexual relationships 'between a superior and a subordinate' are unacceptable and undermine the established authority of senior personnel. They were 'corrosive' to good order and discipline.

Really; what a bunch of spoilsports!

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