BETS ARE OFF OVER BOOKIESwarned that the increase in the tax on by HELEN DAVIES; Fears for future of 70 shops.
UNCERTAINTY surrounds the future of more than 70 city bookies shops because of a government tax on high-stakes gambling machines.
Some of the William Hill shops in Liverpool could be at risk following the chain's announcement that it will close more than 100 shops this year.
The surprise hike on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTS) - dubbed the "crack cocaine of gambling" into which people can pump up to PS300 a minute - is being blamed.
The betting giant has 73 of the 167 betting shops in Liverpool.
William Hill, which employs around 350 staff in Liverpool, said the duty hike from 20% to 25% revealed in George Osborne's Budget made it unlikely that the shops, most of which are loss-making, can be successfully turned around. The tax increase was called "knee-jerk and ill-considered" by critics.
The company has already warned that the increase in the tax on fixed odds betting terminals will cost it around PS22 million a year.
In a trading statement today, William Hill chief executive Ralph Topping described the shop closures as disappointing.
He added: "Through the economic downturn, we have worked hard to grow our retail base but this further planned increase in indirect taxation makes this action necessary."
Last month a summit to tackle problem gambling saw Liverpool council leaders hold "constructive" talks with representatives from William Hill about concerns around fixed odd terminals.
The bookmakers came to the town hall to talk to councillors campaigning to outlaw fixed odds betting terminals (FBOTs), which they say are adding to deprivation in poor communities.
But while the firm said it believes there is room for changes to planning laws to allow councils to limit the number of bookies in a particular area, they didn't accept the argument that FBOTs are a cause of gambling addiction.
TAX: William Hill boss Ralph Topping