The closure of several horse racing betting shops across the country has, over the past months, put scores of people on the breadline.
The latest closure is businessman Peter George’s betting shop in Port of Spain, which has resulted in approximately 300 people being sent home.
George, who spoke with TV6 News on Friday, said his business has been losing money over the past three years because of a ten per cent tax imposed on every bet placed on a horse race and the decision to close his doors was done in protest of the tax being imposed.
“We have lost in the last two to three years 40 per cent of our volume. We are hoping the government gets our attention and calls us and says what is the problem and what can we do to assist,” he said.
This particular tax has been around for more than a decade, but George argued that over time it has become “punitive” and has driven customers away because they have to pay the tax directly when placing bets and the betting shops are then responsible for handing over the total taxes collected to the State.
In the early stages of the introduction of the tax customers tolerated it but with the advancement in technology there has been a decline in customers who are willing to continue to pay the tax just to bet on a horse when they have the option of placing bets in other areas, George said.
“He (the customer) has the ability to do online betting, calling anywhere in the world and get a tax-free bet, there is no reason for him to pay ten per cent tax on a bet,” George said.
In 2012, then-chairman of the Betting Levy Board Kama Maharaj said the industry raked in billions annually but paid considerably less in taxes-$15 million, when it should be closer to $100 million.
The Bookmakers Association wanted to have the current tax replaced with a flat rate annual licence fee.
When asked about the replacement of the current tax, Trade Minister Vasant Bharath said the annual fee made more sense because it would generate approximately $25 million but was still considerably less than what the Betting Levy Board estimated it should be.
He added that he would have to ultimately intervene but Government would do so cautiously as a Cabinet approved committee is being set up to assess the entire horse racing industry, including the betting shops. —CB