Sunday 20 January 2019

The Budget does its customary duty to the betting corporations

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

How do they do it? Sometimes the betting corporations themselves must be wondering how they do it, in this case how they defied the expectations of many interested parties who were sure that the 1pc betting duty might be increased in the Budget.

Not that these expectations were very large - some felt that due to the increasing public awareness of the epidemic of online gambling in particular, that 1pc might be raised to something more in the region, of, say, 1.1pc. Or even 1.2pc, just to show that with Paschal Donohoe on the job, the situation is under control.

But instead, there was nothing.

There was great excitement over the sugar tax, there was another 50 cents on cigarettes, and not a word about the gambling, which is arguably more addictive than any form of indulgence known to humanity, and which is doing damage of an irreversible nature all over Ireland.

So how do they do it?

Well, I don't know how they do it, exactly, and I think that's how it is meant to be. There are essentially two possibilities here.

The first is that the government is simply ignorant, that it hasn't noticed this industry growing into a global monstrosity. That it hasn't seen the many articles in this paper alone about the rise of this phenomenon and the consequent fall of individuals through the myriad ways of self-destruction now available to the punter, the bankruptcies, the frauds, the jail-time, and that large territory in which we find "family breakdown" - I figure suicide would be in there somewhere.

But it is so unlikely that they have not come across such stories, we then come to the second possibility, that they know about this stuff, but not enough to actually give a damn about it. Not when they are hearing a more uplifting version of events from the betting corporations themselves.

Mainly, I suppose, this would be about jobs. It's a great word, "jobs". You mention it to a politician and suddenly all other words seem to have no meaning, words like bankruptcy, fraud, jail-time, family breakdown, suicide.

The industry disassociates itself from such unpleasantness, as if all of those things apparently would be going on anyway, even without the arrival of online gambling and the confluence of addictions at which it stands - that of the gambling itself, in conjunction with the internet, which is said to have certain addictive properties; and sport, of which that could be said too; and television on which many of these sporting events are to be seen, along with an overwhelming amount of advertising during the ad breaks - we're waiting for regulation on that too.

That is a powerful combination there, and usually when something comes along that is so enjoyable, as well as being highly dangerous, the government "takes a view", as they say.

Just like it takes a view on cigarettes and alcohol and fizzy drinks by lumping a bit of tax on them, just like there used to be a tax of 20pc on every bet placed in the premises of a turf accountant, which were also required to be as unappealing as possible because… well, you didn't want anything draconian in this area, but you didn't want either to be openly encouraging people to engage in a form of recreation that might end up with them ruining their lives and those of all belonging to them.

And this was at a time when it was considerably harder to get into that sort of trouble, when there were just a few race meetings every day, you really had to go looking for it, with real money in your hand. Whereas now, it comes looking for you, and if you are in any way vulnerable, you haven't got a prayer.

But jobs... jobs are good, right? Jobs are great.

Hell yes, but given the tremendous profits being made by the corporations, it should take something considerably more than a percentage point on the betting duty to have the big bookies looking for redundancies. No, I figure they'll get a few years out of it yet.

What could be bad for jobs, though, is some future shock brought on by governments finally "taking a view", and as is their wont, making a complete horse's collar out of it - we have no way of knowing what event or series of events might create this belated realisation that "something must be done", but we may be fairly sure that the government of the day will do that something as badly as whatever they are doing now.

Which is almost nothing.

And that future shock might not be great for jobs, but since it is in the future, to the lobbyists and apparently to the lobby-ees, it is a matter of no consequence.

Indeed I have long argued that it would probably serve the bookies better to be vaguely honest about certain aspects of their dark trade while they still roam free in this proverbial Wild West, so they won't eventually look like those big tobacco barons did, still trying to tell us that cigarettes were not really all that bad for you, and were in some ways quite good for you.

No doubt the Paschal Donohoes of this world have heard it said, in those rooms far away from the multitudes, that there's a very, very small percentage of punters who develop an addiction to gambling, and that for the vast majority it is just a harmless recreation - and oh, by the way, did we mention the jobs?

The number they like, for this percentage of punters who have a problem, is 1pc. Same as the betting duty in fact. They really seem to like the old 1pc.

It doesn't seem to bother them, that this number would be more appropriate to the 18th century, that we really have no idea what the true percentage might be, that it is changing all the time and undoubtedly for the worse, because there are people betting online now who would never have been betting before - women, for example, now make up about one-third of the online gambling population, drawn to it not by sports, but by casino and card games and bingo and so forth.

And still we hear that one person in a hundred, might come to some harm in this arena.

Indeed when the Minister hears such a figure - I mean 1pc is the margin of error, it might as well be zero - not only must the 1pc betting duty seem a tad onerous in the circumstances, it hardly justifies the enactment of the famous Gambling Control Bill either, which has been sitting there in a state of some anticipation since Alan Shatter left it with us in 2013.

No, I don't know how the betting corporations or their lobbyists do it, I know only that however they do it, they are very good at it. And that when you look at a long shot, as it were, when the camera moves away from the intimate details and shows us the overall scene, we see the government siding with the corporations, against the common good.

The serious punter might see a pattern here.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss