Cheers today from the Tory ranks for the Chancellor’s decision to raise taxes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to 25 per cent. Nobody in the political and media elite likes these digital-age one-arm bandits, as I wrote in the magazine last month, because they exploit ‘the most vulnerable’ in society and because they have effectively saved the high-street bookie from death by internet. So anything that makes William Hill and Ladbrokes, the sinisterly rich bookies, worse off must be a good thing. Right?
Ed Miliband and Tom Watson, among others, want to give councils the power to ban FOBTs. That seems fundamentally illiberal. But Watson is right to say that the government’s latest levy on FOBTs means that the Treasury will ‘profit from the problem rather than deal with it.’ Once a government starts making huge sums of money from a frowned-on thing — like booze, cigarettes, and gambling — it is hard to taken them seriously when they express concern about the impact. Taxing vices is not in and of itself a virtue. Quite the opposite.
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