July 23, 2014 / 10:01 PM / 6 years ago

UK opposition weighs betting levy to fund grassroots sport

LONDON, July 24 (Reuters) - Britain’s opposition Labour Party is considering imposing a new levy on online betting and Premier League TV income to support measures to encourage more people to take part in sport, it said on Thursday.

Boosting the number of Britons who play sport regularly was one of the aims of the 2012 London Olympics, but the results have been patchy two years on.

“Our consultation looks at a number of ideas which aim to boost investment in community and grassroots sports by getting tough with the Premier League and betting companies,” said Labour’s Harriet Harman, who is shadow culture secretary.

Labour, leading in the opinion polls before next May’s national election, floated the idea of extending a levy that bookmakers currently pay to fund horse racing, broadening it to bring in other sports.

It also wants to ensure that more of the money raised by the 20-team Premier League flows down to fund the game at its lowest level of park soccer. The current Premier League TV deals are worth more than 5 billion pounds ($8.5 billion) over three years.

The proposals drew a frosty initial response from the betting industry and the Premier League.

British bookmaker Ladbrokes said the betting industry was not a “bottomless pit” for politicians to raid.

“As far as we are aware no bookmaker or betting operator ever closed a community sports field or club,” said Donal McCabe, the company’s director of external relations.

“So we are not sure why an extra tax is being proposed on an industry already facing two tax increases and which pays out over 65 percent of all its earnings in taxes and levies,”

Bookmakers including William Hill and Ladbrokes are facing an additional annual tax bill of almost 400 million pounds ($682 million) from a change in the treatment of online betting and higher duties on machines in high street shops.

The Premier League said it was channelling 56 million pounds per season to grassroots soccer and good causes, and distributing a further 60 million to clubs below the top flight to help fund the professional game.

“We understand that all those interested in the long-term health of English football want to see better grassroots facilities and higher levels of participation, particularly amongst young people,” the Premier League said in a statement.

“This is why we are committed to continue the unprecedented levels of funding we provide as well as being happy to engage on these matters.” ($1 = 0.5871 British Pounds) (Writing by Keith Weir, Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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