Harriet Harman has set the hare running this morning by proposing a levy on sports betting. The shadow sports minister Clive Efford said:
‘We believe it is right that businesses that make money from sport should contribute to sport. We are consulting on whether we should introduce a levy on betting, including online betting, to fund gambling awareness and support for problem gambling but also to improve community sports facilities and clubs.’
Harman and Efford have also singled out the Premier League. They propose that its voluntary levy on broadcast deals (worth £5.5bn) be turned into a ‘proper tax’, which would raise £275m for grassroots football.
The improvement of grass roots sport is a noble ambition, and one supported by the gambling industry. A spokesman from William Hill told The Spectator that the company ‘welcomed all initiatives’ to improve local and school sport, but questioned the existing funding model. ‘We don’t think that the problem should be passed on to us,’ the spokesman said. And here’s why. The gambling industry contributes more than £1bn to the Treasury, with a further £400 million expected to be raised next year thanks to initiatives announced at the last Budget.
The politics of this Labour proposal are confused. Premier League football is, for the most part, a middle class activity. The best season tickets at Tottenham Hotspur, for example, cost £1,320. A Sky Sports subscription, for instance, costs more than £500 a year. I suspect that a levy on the league would be a popular move in some parts of the country: the last time I was in Newcastle, several fans of the Magpies told me that Sky and the Premier League had wrecked English football by concentrating wealth in the hands of a few big or fashionable clubs, which was having an adverse effect on smaller clubs, the lower leagues and grassroots.