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Bookmakers predict pounds 50m boom today.

Byline: DAVID ASHFORTH

A CARNIVAL atmosphere and a boom in turnover is expected in Britain's 8,000-plus

betting shops today, when customers will bet tax-free for the first time since 1966.

The arrival of zero deductions comes three months earlier than had been scheduled after Chancellor Gordon Brown's March Budget.

Bookmakers are forecasting turnover in the region of pounds 50 million as a bumper sporting Saturday heralds the beginning of the tax-free era that both bookmakers and Government alike have suggested could see Britain become the gambling centre of the world.

Betting shop, telephone and internet punters will see the benefit immediately this morning as the nine per cent betting tax is wiped out.

Channel 4 betting pundit John McCririck is in no doubt about the significance of the landmark, which comes 35 years after the reintroduction of tax on bets placed off-course in Britain.

"It is the greatest day for punters since betting shops opened on May 1, 1961," he said yesterday. "Punters can cast off their chains. They have never had it so good. It's a new dawn-punters' freedom day.

"It is now a paradise for punters. The most competitive prices ever on the racecourse and now betting's tax free- what more could punters want?"

Brown paved the way for

today's momentous event when he announced in his Budget speech that betting duty on turnover would be abolished in favour of a 15 per cent gross profits tax.

Britain's bookmakers, who had pressed for such a move, agreed in return to repatriate their offshore businesses-and scrap deductions on punters' bets.

In effect, the Government has backed bookmakers in a bid to promote a golden era for gambling in Britain, with bookmakers themselves, punters, racing and Government all set to benefit.

And with a weekend of top- class televised racing featuring the Tote Cambridgeshire and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and the crucial England versus Greece World Cup qualifier this afternoon, bookmakers are geared up for lively business.

Britain's biggest bookmaker, Ladbrokes, predicts the abolition of betting duty could benefit punters to the tune of pounds 800m over the next year-equivalent to pounds 300 for each of Britain's 2.7 million regular betting customers.

Chris Bell, chief executive of Ladbrokes Betting Worldwide, said: "I am very excited and slightly nervous. We have very high hopes of starting off with a bumper weekend.

"A 25 per cent uplift in turnover would be a very

acceptable start and I think we will get it. We have increased our workforce by ten per cent."

Coral has increased staffing levels for telephone betting by 25 per cent. Bob Scott, Coral Eurobet's chief executive, said: "This is a fantastic new era of betting, and the expected growth in turnover will be matched by an increase in job opportunities across the industry."

The firm's PR director,

Simon Clare, added: "We have already seen an increase in business and are hopeful that turnover will be up 20 to 25 per cent this weekend."

Clare claimed that Coral "love taking lumpy bets on odds-on favourites and a lot of the increased turnover will be on low-margin events and short-priced sports bets".

David Hood, William Hill's PR manager, said: "We have had well over 20 four-figure bets on England to beat Greece, at 1-5, including one bet of pounds 10,000 to win pounds 2,000. We have never seen the same activity before, because nine per cent deductions were prohibitive. We are excited about it and expect turnover to go up about 20 per cent. On a normal Saturday, the industry takes about pounds 40 million. We are expecting about pounds 50 million tomorrow."

Smaller bookmakers have received an extra boost with Paul Boateng, financial secretary to the Treasury, announcing in today's Racing Post that bookmakers with an annual turnover of less than pounds 600,000, and financial spread-betting firms, would be able to pay tax quarterly rather than monthly.

But he also issued a reminder of potential problems to come. Commenting on the constructive negotiations that led to today's tax reform, he expressed the hope "that this approach will be carried through to the ongoing talks between the racing and betting industries on the

replacement of the levy".

Bookmakers' representatives have warned that the benefits of GPT could be undermined if the racing industry persists with its demand for 2.5 per cent of turnover in return for pre-race data and pictures, and a complaint has been lodged with the Office

of Fair Trading.

Tom Kelly, acting chief executive of the Confederation of Bookmakers' Associations, said: "We could have a situation where the GPT benefits are totally eroded and the

industry ends up worse off."

McCririck also added a note of caution. He said: "The big problem is if any attempt is made to reintroduce the betting tax by bookmakers, because the BHB is asking too much money.

"That is an horrendous fear. and it must be resisted. We can't have a Government taking off a tax and the

industry putting it back on again."

nPaul Boateng, page 13

David Ashforth, page 18

Greyhounds, page 99

CAPTION(S):

Chris Bell High hopes of bumper weekend John McCririck "Punters' freedom day"
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Oct 6, 2001
Words:864
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