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Pools re-open following protest action

By John Young john.young@trinidadexpress.com

BETTING shops which had remained closed for over five weeks as a mark of protest by their operators have re-opened for business.
The majority of these “racing pools”, as they are commonly known, usually will close for about two weeks around mid-December to year’s end.
But most did not re-open at the turn of the new year. Their grievance, as highlighted by Bookmakers Association president Peter George, centres on the legislative ten per cent tax that applies to every single dollar that is wagered at the tellers’ window on foreign horse and greyhound racing.
George confirmed betting shops re-opened last Monday although they had intended to “remain closed for a much longer period”.
The decision to open was arrived at, with the main reason being, he emphasised, “We needed to get our business up, we were losing money (staying closed) and for the welfare of our employees; workers were complaining...they have rent and (other) bills to pay.”
The co-proprietor of the popular Fair Chance (2006) Racing Service in Port of Spain, as well as other betting shops throughout the country, conceded the staff had been made to suffer during the period the pools were closed.
“The position was everybody (wor­kers) was laid off without pay,” he said.
However, George does not buy into the suggestion that the pools, by re-opening, were retreating ground.
“We needed to get the attention of the Government and the Betting Levy Board as to the seriousness and gravity of the situation. Government has to realise we have a serious problem.”
The private betting shops are claiming competition in an evolving market for the entertainment dollar continues to have a negative impact on their businesses. They contend bettors (punters) have been gravita­ting to other rival forms of gaming (gambling) in recent times.
When asked if they (the bookies) were granted the audience they had requested with the Government, with a view to resolving the impasse, George said: “Absolutely, we’ve had two (meetings) with the minister (Vasant Bharath, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment) and the Betting Levy Board.”
Bharath is the line minister un­der whose purview the industry lies.
Betting shops have been in existence in this country for over 50 years. But there is a concern within the industry that they could be forced to close their businesses permanently if the prevailing tax is not completely removed.
“It (the meetings) was cordial and he (Bharath) listened and seemed willing, wanting to assist. But the BLB was at another end to us, and he (Bharath) seemed to be confused by it all,” added George, referring to the differing views expounded.
They (the bookmakers) point to their handle (betting turnover) gradually having reduced over the last couple years, the result of which, they argue, poses a serious threat to the long-term, sustainable survival of the traditional racing pool, given the current status quo.
George stated, “Here (Trinidad and Tobago) is the only place (this type of) taxes are collected, it is outdated.”
He reasons a “flat license fee” ought to be implemented but added the exact amount would have to be determined in further discourse.
The ten percent statutory levy on bets placed in racing pools was imposed almost 20 years ago, with the State-appointed BLB tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the pro­per collection of these taxes. There are 12 pools still in operation in the twin-island republic, down from 26 in 1989.
All of last month, while continuing to lobby Government for the abolition of the tax, most of the betting shops, in a stand of solidarity—At the Post (Port of Spain) and Bob’s Racing (St James) being the exceptions—remained closed as a sign of protest.c
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