A few months ago Tom Greatrex, the Member for Hamilton West and Rutherglen, south of Glasgow, visited the Mecca bingo Hall in Rutherglen Main Street to discuss local issues as well as well as the level of tax imposed on bingo in the UK. The local MP had recently called for lower tax on bingo, which would affect the likes of the Mecca in Main Street. Sadly his busy schedule did not allow him to partake of a game of Bingo, but he did stress how important a role local Bingo Halls play in the community, acting as a way of bringing people together.
Unlike other gambling companies, bingo operators at that time paid both 15pc gross profits tax and 15pc VAT. Betting shop, casino and football pools operators pay no VAT. The sole exception was the VAT payable on poker in casinos, but those games do not attract betting duty. As a very partial observer, I of course think that was patently unfair. But any sensible person looking at it impartially would be able to see that this is not a level playing field for land-based Bingo.
Tom Greatrex said: “I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit Mecca Bingo in Rutherglen. Sadly I didn’t manage to get involved in a game whilst I was there.”
Following a chat with the regulars, he declared that it was probably just as well he hadn’t chanced his arm at a game- the speed of the calling may have been his undoing! He declared “I am not sure I would have been able to keep up, and have a new appreciation for those who are able to keep a close eye on several books at the one time”.
What is particularly encouraging is that while the member may not be a Bingo fan, he does appreciate the good it does in a local community. He said “Bingo has a very important social function in communities throughout my constituency, bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds for a fun few hours. It is concerning, then, that bingo should be subject to higher levels of taxation than other forms of gambling.
The MP wrote to the Tory Treasury Minister, Justine Greening MP, about this, calling for tax on Bingo to be reduced. He was worried that while online Bingo is still on an upswing, during the recession, land-based Bingo businesses could be adversely affected and possibly start closing Bingo venues. He is certainly not anti-online Bingo, but wants those that prefer to get out and mingle for real, rather than virtually in chat rooms, to continue to have the opportunities to do so.
Until recently UK Bingo Halls had suffered considerable problems. In 2007 bingo halls across the UK were seriously affected by the implementation of the national smoking ban. Studies at the time said that over 60% of all bingo players were smokers and a lot of bingo players stopped attending games because of the ban. Most Bingo Halls tried to legally accommodate smokers but attendance at games did not improve. One of the obvious problems was that sessions of Bingo, especially when linked, could last 30 minutes or more, and unlike when at a pub, you couldn’t just nip out for a ciggy, otherwise you might miss a game and a chance of a win.
Further Changes in the law allowed local governments to set licensing fees for Bingo Halls with devastating results. In many cases local town councils doubled and even tripled license fees for bingo halls. Bingo halls were forced to pass along the additional costs to players making live bingo games unaffordable for players on fixed incomes. Add to all this that the taxation of live Bingo is very high, and you can understand why an MP for an areas of Scotland where Bingo is almost a religion amongst some of his constituents, took some action.
That action appears to have paid off! The Treasury has announced an annual tax cut of £10 million on Bingo playing. This is a welcome move by both-the companies running bingo sites as well as the players. The Bingo community can now breathe a sigh of relief as the tax charged from them is now at the same level with that charged for other forms of gambling like the National Lottery.
The slash in tax does not imply good news for the bingo companies alone. The players can expect to see prize money increase, and/or the cost of cards reducing as Bingo Halls try to coax back lost customers, and keep current ones.
We Bingo players are pleased therefore applaud Tom Greatrex’s recent good fortune- his promotion to Shadow Energy Minister in the last few days as part of Labour leader Ed Miliband's reshuffle of the shadow cabinet. He was previously Shadow Scotland Office Minister, and will be part of the shadow energy and climate change team as the opposition spokesperson on oil and gas, electricity market reform, the National Grid, and consumer issues associated with energy, including energy bills. Seems like both the Bingo industry and Mr Greatrex have had a good win then!