Members’ clubs said last night they would have no choice but to close down and send home their workers following the hefty taxes imposed on the industry by Finance Minister Colm Imbert in the 2017-2018 budget presented yesterday in the House of Representatives.
Spokesman for the industry, Sherry Persad, said she was “in utter dismay” upon hearing Imbert recite the list of taxes to be imposed on casinos. “All of them have been increased by 100 per cent,” she told Newsday. “We definitely will have to close, we will have to minimise and this will affect employment most importantly. It is catastrophic and horrific.”
During his presentation, Imbert said the local gambling industry makes between $15-$20 billion a year but the Government collects “virtually nothing” from the industry because the members’ clubs do not pay the taxes as they should. He said only about nine or ten per cent of the clubs pay the due taxes.
Earlier, Imbert said the Government must ensure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes, not just the easily identifiable ones, and that the Government will ensure that the tax systems in the Revenue Authority, to be established to replace the Board of Inland Revenue, will have coordination and ensure collection of taxes.
Responding to Imbert’s statement that the casinos have not been paying their taxes, Persad asked, “So whose fault is that if they are not collecting? They are the regulators so if people are not paying why don’t they do something about it?”
She said that “everybody is supposed to pay taxes and if you allow people to operate without paying their taxes, who is to blame?”
She said it was not the fault of the casino owners and operators. “Who are the regulators to ensure that people pay? We are regulated by the Government. If people are not paying it is up to them to do something about it. Why don’t they collect from the 90 per cent that he says is not paying? So what have you done? The ten per cent that is paying, you raise the taxes, so what is the result? You going to get the 90 per cent to pay?”
Persad said the gambling industry cannot absorb the new taxes in the country’s current terrible economic climate. “If you know anybody in this industry and you talk to them they can tell you.” Reminded that there is a view that people are prone to gamble more heavily in difficult times, she said that had not been the experience of the casinos.
Newsday drew Persad’s attention to last week’s announcement by the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) that it had recorded the highest profit in its history last year, despite the recessionary conditions in the country. Persad said the casinos operated under several restrictions.
“If you will notice, you don’t have to be 21 years to buy a (lottery) ticket. In our clubs, when you’re coming in you have to give in all your information: you have to be 21 years; you have to have a disposable income to come in with. You don’t have to have all those requirements to buy a (lottery) ticket,” she said.