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HMRC to amend regulation on freeplay taxation

By Caroline Watson
This week the government has decided to revise new rules regarding free bets, freeplays and discounted betting.

Earlier this year, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) released an industry consultation paper detailing its proposals to levy remote gaming duties on freeplays, in order to align Remote Gaming Duty policy with that of free bets in General Betting Duty.

George Osborne declared the end of the exemption that online casino and bingo operators had once enjoyed from the 15% general betting duty imposed on free or discounted online sports bets.

HMRC stated that it wanted to bring further clarity regarding the upcoming taxation of free bets offered by industry remote betting stakeholders.

Unsurprisingly the decision faced a great deal of backlash from operators, the new duty came shortly after the 15% online point of consumption tax on gambling revenue was implemented. Bookmakers with retail betting operations also saw their Machine Games Duty increase from 20% to 25% that year.

Operators disputed that the unacceptably high tax burden that was set upon them could severely damage the market. Whilst limiting already existing operators, it would also stifle the growth of new market entrants.

The new draft legislation applies to remote gambling operators liable to account for Remote Gaming Duty, which concerns to gaming over the internet, telephone, by television, radio or other electronic communications.

Under the draft legislation, freeplays subject to re-wagering requirements are treated as taxable gaming payments each time they’re played, while winning that accumulate during re-wagering can’t be deducted from the tax calculation until the player has met the rollover requirements and is allowed to withdraw the winnings.

In a statement confirming the changes, HMRC says: “This measure is intended to bring the tax treatment of freeplays for remote gaming more into line with the treatment for free bets under GBD.

“The costing includes a behavioural effect to account for a change in the marketing strategy of affected operators as well as the potential for firms finding ways to mitigate the impacts of the measure.”

Although operators protest that this date is too far away, the change is due to take effect on 1 August 2017.
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