Don’t ruin our social lives: Save bingo halls - Tuesday 25th of March 2008

Many elderly and female players say a visit to the bingo is a social lifeline for them where they can meet friends in a safe, warm and friendly environment.

But 43 clubs across the country have closed in the last 14 months alone and a study says a further 108 are at risk as government tax demands and the impact of the smoking ban take their toll.

Cumbrian MP David Maclean is one of 80 ministers to sign an Early Day Motion which calls on the Government to scrap VAT on bingo revenues after the Chancellor failed to make an announcement in the Budget earlier this month.

He says it is another example of local services being stripped away following threats to local hospitals, post offices, mobile libraries and bus services.

Ann Jacques, 69, from Penrith, has played bingo for over 40 years and visits the Gala in Carlisle around three times a week.

She is one of more than 52,000 people who are members of bingo clubs in Carlisle, Penrith, Workington and Whitehaven.

Mrs Jacques said: “This is the only place where I can come and sit somewhere safe, warm, get a meal and spend the day.

“I have arthritis and I can’t do other games or sports because of it. You meet people and this is very much a social thing for me.

“I don’t want to lose bingo halls. You need them to get out.”

Great grandmother and charity shop volunteer Wendy Webster, from Harraby in Carlisle, has been playing at the English Gate Plaza club regularly since she moved to the city in 2000.

“This gets me out and about, I enjoy the company. I’d be lost if I didn’t have it to come to.” she said.

“I read and do jigsaw puzzles but the club is quite important to me. The Government should be doing more to save bingo. They need to get rid of the tax for a start.”

Bingo clubs and the industry have been campaigning for action for over a year after seeing the impact of the smoking ban on clubs in Scotland.

The industry says players are also being taxed twice – operators pay a 15 per cent Gross Profit Tax and 17.5 per cent VAT is charged on everything players spend inside the club.

This is not the case for bookmakers and casinos, where only 15 per cent GPT is charged.

Workington great grandmother Lillian Coid collected over 600 signatures in just three days from players at the town’s Opera Hall when the Bingo Association launched its national Stop Destroying My Bingo campaign a year ago.

Mrs Coid, 77, said: “It is dear to go and play bingo now and the number of people going to play has definitely gone down. I don’t think the club would close but there has been a change.

“I have my dog that I walk but going to the bingo is important for me. I know the staff there, I help clear up the tables and you know the people who go.”

Bingo Association chief executive Paul Talboys said: “There is no reason why they should continue to be penalised by double taxation when other gambling products pay only a single tax.

“The industry is struggling to deal with the combined impact of double taxation, the removal of gaming machines and the impact of the smoking ban.

“In the last 14 months alone 43 clubs have closed. This lack of action will now ensure further club closures with attendant loss of jobs and decrease in Treasury receipts.”

The organisation believes that for every club that closes, the Exchequer would lose £700,000 per year in revenue across a wide range of taxes.

Of 189 clubs identified as being ‘at risk’ in 2005, 81 have already closed.

A study by the Henley Centre, for the Bingo Association, has found that many players suffer emotions similar to that of bereavement following the closure of a bingo club.

A petition running on the Downing Street website until April 11 – www. petitions.pm.gov.uk/saveourbingo – has already attracted more than 1,800 signatures.

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