Betting shop law ‘costs State €23m’

The State is losing more than €20m a year due to an 80-year-old restriction on the opening hours of betting shops, retail chiefs warn.

Betting shop law ‘costs State €23m’

A 1931 law which forces betting shops to close at 6.30pm for six months of the year is due to be reformed, but industry leaders fear the legislation will not be passed in time to stop the curb kicking in for a final time in September.

The restriction forces betting shops to shed the equivalent of 500 jobs through reduced working hours and lay-offs, said David Fitzsimons of Retail Excellence Ireland.

Mr Fitzsimons estimates this deprives the exchequer of €23.3m in lost PAYE, betting tax, and the implications for welfare payments.

The bar on opening later for the six months from September is due to be swept away in the Gaming (Amendments) Act, but it needs to be passed before the summer recess in July to have an impact in autumn.

Labour TD Ciarán Lynch is among those who have raised the issue and he is urging the Government to ensure that the law is changed in time.

Mr Fitzsimons said: “The law as it stands leads to the equivalent of 500 jobs lost every September. Bookies are an important part of the fabric of our town centres and should be allowed to stay open later all year round. It is important to ensure that this legislation goes through before the summer recess.”

The call came as Finance Minister Michael Noonan was urged to double license fees on gaming machines to win a jackpot for the exchequer.

Fine Gael North Kildare TD Anthony Lawlor has called on Mr Noonan to bring payments here into line with those imposed on operators in the North.

The 1,672 gaming machines in the State generate a revenue of €765,000 a year, with 12-month licenses costing €505 and three-month ones €145.

Mr Lawlor insists there is scope to bring in a lot more revenue, saying: “There is an opportunity here to raise money, which we should look into. I understand licenses in the North are around €1,000 per machine.”

Mr Lawlor said he doubted if operators would pass on the cost of increased fees to punters by cutting jackpots on machines, such as poker ones, which are popular in betting shops.

Mr Noonan appeared cool on the idea of ratcheting up license fees, saying: “It is not possible to compare the licence fees applicable to gaming machines in the State with those applying in Northern Ireland as the licensing and duty arrangements differ between the two jurisdictions.

“In particular, in Northern Ireland the operator pays machine gaming duty which is chargeable on the total net takings from his or her dutiable gaming machines rather than a fixed amount per machine.”

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