|British internet casino operator Nigel Payne is lobbying the U.S. Congress to give him the right to pay taxes. He believes the U.S. would then be forced to regulate and legalize gambling over the internet.|
'There's a one-sided debate in the States at the moment by certain parties who don't like the industry we are in,' says Mr. Payne, the chief executive officer of Sportingbet, which claims to be the world's largest Internet sports bookmaker and casino.
So he has hired Greenberg Traurig, a Washington lobbying firm, to campaign for his right to pay taxes.
The lobbying is focussing on the democrats, who are typically keener on tax and regulations. They will plead that in both Britain and Australia, online-casino owners pay 15 percent of their gross profits in taxes. If the U.S. had a similar tax structure in place, Mr. Payne’s Web site alone would have paid the U.S. $11 million (£7.5 million) in taxes last year.
As part of the lobbying campaign, Mr Payne started to run ads Wednesday in U.S. papers featuring a Brit holding an umbrella who asks, 'Please sir, can I pay tax?'
If it agreed to reap the rewards of taxation, Congress or the state legislatures would have to create a regulatory structure for Internet gaming that's similar to the one in place in Britain and Australia, among other countries. In effect, it would legalize online gaming in the U.S.
Internet gambling is currently prohibited in America, but about half of online gamblers are Americans using foreign sites.
The ad campaign targets Washington publications that lawmakers read. The aim is to convince them that it's impossible to outlaw online gambling, so they must regulate it. The ad contends that there's no way for the U.S. to stop people from e-gambling, and that the only way to keep minors from gambling and fly-by-night companies from hoodwinking consumers is to regulate the industry -- and tax it. 'Can we be the first to pay?' Sportingbet asks.
There is also a much larger TV ad campaign planned for later this year. 'This is a long haul,' says Mr. Payne. 'We want people to be aware that this is a massive industry that is not stoppable. It is impossible to prevent people going online and putting on bets, so it is far more sensible to regulate it and take billions of dollars of taxes in return. Half of the world's regular internet gamblers live in the US.”
'Obviously, it's clever for a British company to say, 'Tax me,' ' says U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican and author of legislation intended to shut down the booming e-gaming industry. 'But it's not a well-thought-out concept.'
Mr Goodlatte says the U.S. would face the difficult if not impossible chore of collecting taxes from foreign companies, many of which operate in offshore hideaways in Antigua or Belize.
Many see the online casinos as a social problem rather than a potential revenue source. They quote the Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits the use of telephones to place bets, but neither the courts nor the federal government has determined that the law covers online wagering.