The Sunday Times has reported that some internal Whitehall documents propose that some Labour Party ministers are intent on making the UK a 'world leader' in Internet gaming. Records show that ministers and officials have met Internet gaming tycoons and their representatives no less than 26 times over the past two years.
Ministers are looking to actively encourage gaming firms to Britain; new legislation would lift the current ban on online gaming businesses. A major sticking point seems to be taxation. Traditional bookmakers pay 15% tax on their income but the online industry has said that anything over 2% on gross profits would be unacceptable. Some firms would most likely stay offshore but obtain a British ‘seal of approval’ to enable them to attract British players.
The release of evidence of links between ministers and the on-line gaming business arrives just as the firms have run into deep water in the US, where arrests of British online gaming executives have been followed by a law which would stop American people from using their credit cards on line to fund illegal wagering transactions.
Internet betting firms lost more than £4 billion off the value of their share prices last week after the legislation from Congress meant an effective shutdown of US operations. Loss of the American market - where sports betting has always been viewed with much greater mistrust than in Britain - would mean the firms must concentrate more strongly on the British market.
On-line firms which rely on payment by credit card must currently operate from offshore. But from next September they will be allowed to operate from British bases under British regulation.
The papers released under Freedom of Information rules show that the Government's aspirations were laid out in a briefing note for the gambling minister, Richard Caborn, before a meeting with Mark Davies, managing director of a leading online gaming firm, last July.
The briefing stated: 'It is a government wide policy and that includes Her Majesty's Treasury, that Britain should become a world leader in the field of online gambling, in order to provide our citizens with the opportunity to gamble in a safe, well-regulated environment.'