888 pays up in Spain

888, the last of the London-listed operators with a significant Spanish-facing business, has paid €8.7m to settle its back-dated tax bill.

The online casino and poker specialist has parted with €7.4m plus surcharges and interest of €1.3m from its existing cash resources, taking Spanish authorities’ tax windfall from London-listed operators in the last week to €68.9m, following the payments of bwin.party, Sportingbet and Betfair.

In addition to complying with the Spanish government’s last-minute demand for taxes back-dated to 1 January 2009 under retroactively applied 1966 and 1977 land-based gaming laws, 888 and other operators have also been paying 20-25% of gross profit on their Spanish operations since May 2011.

All major non-Spanish online operators that have applied for licences have completed tax self-assessments to settle their liabilities ahead of the grant of the country’s first online gaming licences, despite the Spanish regulator insisting that there was no connection between the Spanish tax office’s last-minute tax grab and the grant of licences.

PokerStars and bet365 are also expected to make substantial settlements to clear away any potential impediment to the issue of their licences, but as privately owned companies, neither are under any obligation to disclose the amount. London-listed operators such as William Hill and Ladbrokes, the latter operating a  land-based business in Spain under its Sportium JV with local brand Cirsa, are also understood to be making smaller payments in relation to their online businesses. Spanish authorities’ last-minute tax grab from non-local online gaming companies is expected to net the Spanish government well over €100m in extra tax revenue.

888 said in its statement this morning that it “believes it has fulfilled all requirements to receive a Spanish eGaming licence.”

A further court hearing on Codere’s action against Betfair, which cleared its outstanding tax liability of up to €10m last week, is also due to be heard on 1 June. Sportingbet, which was forced to shut down its Spanish facing operations in March by a Madrid Court after losing a court battle with Codere, has said it will apply immediately to have this injunction lifted when it receives its Spanish licence.

The austerity driven tax-grab from the Spanish tax office came less than three weeks before the country’s regulator was due to issue the country’s first online gaming licences covering the offer of sports betting and casino table games, including poker. Betting exchanges, in-play, slots and bingo were not however included in the first round of licensing.

Casino Choice journalist

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