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Two shuttered betting shops still owe $449,000 in taxes

Albert Steede, the owner of GameTime and Seahorses

Two of the island’s shuttered betting shops still owe taxpayers a total of almost $450,000 in tax.

The Office of the Tax Commissioner shared figures with The Royal Gazette under public access to information showing that two businesses had been in arrears for betting tax totalling $448,864 for the past two years.

The Ministry of Finance did not respond by press time to a question about what efforts had been made to collect the money.

The OTC’s information officer would not share details on which shops owed the tax, noting that the information was consolidated “to avoid the disclosure of individual taxpayer information”.

All of the island’s betting shops ― Paradise Games, Seahorses and Triple Crown Racing in Hamilton and GameTime in St George’s and Somerset ― closed down in March last year when they were required under new legislation to apply for bookmaker’s licences from the Bermuda Gaming Commission.

As reported by The Royal Gazette last week, minutes from BGC meetings showed that none of the betting shops submitted completed applications under the new regime, which includes a 22-page betting licence application form, a 67-page multi-jurisdictional personal history disclosure form and permission for the commission to run background checks.

The OTC said that five entities were registered to pay betting tax ― which is 20 per cent of all bets made, received or negotiated ― for the years 2015 to 2022.

The information officer said that she was prohibited by law from sharing their names under the Taxes Management Act.

She disclosed that in the financial year 2015-16, the five entities declared bets worth $7.2 million and paid betting tax of $1.4 million.

The following year, there was $4.6 million in declared bets and $923,385 in tax paid.

Revenue then appears to have dropped dramatically, with declared bets down to $779,875 in 2017-18.

By 2018-19, the amount of declared bets was just $605,512. The Government received only $121,102 in betting tax revenue that year.

The reason for the steep decline is not known, although the growing popularity of online betting websites is likely to be a factor.

The information officer said that the OTC queried one of the five entities about the falling revenue in 2018 when it provided revised tax amounts for 2016-17 and 2017-18, but the correspondence could not be found to share with the Gazette in response to its Pati request.

“There has been no recent correspondence regarding overall declared betting revenue numbers,” she added.

A Triple Crown Racing spokesman said: “TCR has paid all its taxes.” The spokesman said last week that the company felt that the personal disclosure requirements for a licence were too intrusive under the new legislation and “with the business being marginally profitable, we decided to give up our licence and close the business”.

Paradise Games owner Marc Bean was unable to say if his business owed taxes but said that the OTC should be able to share the information. Paradise Games submitted an application for a bookmaker’s licence last year, but the BGC said it was not valid.

All efforts to reach Albert Steede, the owner of GameTime and Seahorses and former Bermuda cricketer, have been unsuccessful but his businesses have suffered financial struggles in recent years.

Mr Steede went into the sports betting business in 2006 with friend and fellow national cricket team player Cleon Scotland after retiring from the game.

They took over the International Fixed Odds betting shop, with former owner Alan Lindo staying on as part-time owner and adviser, after the business was rebranded as GameTime.

At the time, Mr Lindo said: “There is more money leaving Bermuda than staying in Bermuda in betting because 20 per cent is a high [tax] rate. The larger bettors are going on to the internet.”

By 2018, Mr Steede held all the shares in GameTime and also owned Seahorses, the Queen Street bookmaker.

GameTime’s shop in Hamilton closed in 2019 when Mr Steede said it made no sense for it to compete with Seahorses.

It was reported this year that Seahorses was being sued for allegedly failing to pay tens of thousands of dollars in rent to its landlord, the Bermuda Mechanics Beneficial Association.

Mr Steede is understood to have moved to Britain after his shops closed last year.

Questions to David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance, about the decline of the betting-shop sector went unanswered by press time.

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Published August 15, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated August 15, 2023 at 7:36 am)

Two shuttered betting shops still owe $449,000 in taxes

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