Renewed calls to double the betting tax in the budget to fund gambling addiction services are being considered by the Department of Finance.
Independent Alliance Minister John Halligan wants the tax increased from 1% to 2% — a move which would result in an extra €50m in revenue annually for the exchequer.
The extra €50m should be ringfenced and go on gambling addiction services, says Mr Halligan, and this would “save lives”.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Today Show, Mr Halligan said: “The problem with gambling comes into the spotlight every few months, maybe when a high-profile sports star comes forward with their personal harrowing stories of how their lives have been destroyed. Then public interest wanes,” he said.
“But every day of the week, you speak to individuals or organisations dealing with addictive gambling; they will tell you that it is destroying the lives of thousands of people and families. With 1%, what they are paying in Ireland is one of the lowest in Europe. And we are asking for 1% more.”
The same request was made by the Government partners in the build-up to last year’s budget but no decision was taken to increase the tax.
Mr Halligan said Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is looking at the potential increase this time.
Asked about the proposal, a Department of Finance spokesman declined to speculate on budget matters under consideration.
However, the spokesman said: “An increase in the tax rate from 1% to 2% for the traditional and remote bookmakers would result in a doubling of tax receipts from €51.5m in 2018 to €103m in 2019.
The Alliance had a meeting last month with Mr Donohoe at which its budget wish list was proposed. This included the increase in the betting tax.
Mr Halligan said research from the Irish Institute of Public Health in 2010 concluded that 40,000 people in Ireland have a gambling problem. Ireland has the “highest gambling losses in Europe”, said the junior business minister.
He added that the real figure for people with gambling problems is now probably much higher.
The Waterford TD maintains that larger betting firms control most of the 900 betting shops nationwide and therefore can afford to pay the higher tax. Betting firms argue that a higher tax would result in shops closing and the loss of local jobs.
A tax strategy group paper published last month by the Department of Finance concluded that, given the overall increase in employment and economic growth, the Government expects betting receipts to increase further this year.
Revenue has estimated an increase in betting receipts in 2018 and is forecasting a total of €53.3m for this year, which would mean a growth of 2.1%.