Rank calls for single UK tax rate; nears Gala Casinos buy

UK land-based and online gaming group Rank has reiterated its call for a single tax rate for all UK gambling as the government continues its formal consultation into introducing a point-of-consumption tax for the online industry.

In Rank’s first trading update since the UK government announced plans in March’s Budget to tax online gambling based on location of gambler rather than company, CEO Ian Burke said: “We remain convinced that a fair tax regime which supports UK jobs and stimulates local economies can only be achieved by introducing a single rate of tax for all products governed by the Gambling Act.”

Rank’s Interactive division, which operates its MeccaBingo.com, Bluesquare sports betting and GCasino brands from Alderney, would be brought into the UK tax regime should these changes be implemented. Ladbrokes and William Hill have also criticised the proposed new tax regime, with Hill’s arguing the 15% GPT tax currently proposed would increase the size of the illegal grey offshore market targeting UK consumers. Rank’s case for a single tax rate was however arguably undermined by the EC rejecting  claims from land-based casinos in Denmark last year that levying a different rate for online gambling than for its land-based counterpart amounted to an illegal form of state aid.

Burke was speaking as the land-based and online gaming company unveiled solid 4% revenue growth across its land-based and online businesses since the turn of the year. Revenue fron Rank Interactive were 17% up in 18 weeks to 6 May, the operator announced this morning. Customers of its Blue Square-branded sportsbook, despite being greater in number than last year, however staked less than last year, resulting in revenue contracting by 7% year-on-year.

Rank added that: “A large part of Rank Interactive’s progress over the last 18 weeks is attributable to the progress we have made in improving our brands’ mobile channel.” Rank during the period released an upgraded Mecca Bingo app, optimised for the iPad.

The betting and gaming group’s update this morning coincided with the Times reporting that Rank was about to agree the acquisition of Gala Casinos for approximately £200m, the two parties apparently finding workable solutions to the issues – reportedly relating to Gala Casinos’ pension liability and property ownership – that led to the breakdown of initial talks in late March. The deal going through would make Rank the largest bricks ‘n’ mortar casino operator in the UK, the addition of Gala’s 24 casinos to its existing 35 giving it ownership of 59 premises in the UK, ahead of the 44 operated by Malaysian casino giant Genting.

Casino Choice journalist

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