e said Sportingbet had been left with no choice but to make the move to Guernsey because "the way Government gambling policy has been handled, it’s just like amateur night". He went on: "We have computer systems that need to be updated. If we don’t meet their [the new Gambling Commission] requirements by September we will be committing a criminal offence. The problem is we don’t know what the requirements are.”
"We don’t want to leave this country - we never did - but we feel we have no choice. You only have to look at the way the supercasino was handled." McIver described the Gambling Commission as "a bunch of civil servants in Birmingham". He did not rule out a return to Britain but said it was now "highly unlikely". Sportingbet - which has customers in the UK, Australia, Italy, Spain and Turkey - has had a licence to operate from the Channel Islands since its early days.
Also this week, Interactive Gaming, another gaming group whose brands include Premierbet and Heathorns, said it was relocating to Malta. It said the Mediterranean island, which has been working hard to attract UK gaming operators, was "a location with a more defined regulatory environment" despite the Gambling Commission clarifying technical standards last week.
The move resulted in the departure of its chief executive John Heaton. Interactive has already said it would miss the 31 May deadline for filing its accounts, resulting in the suspension of its shares. But its decision and that of Sportingbet are symptomatic of a growing frustration in the gaming industry with the regulator and Government.
When the Commission was created, the Government had originally hoped to persuade offshore operators, in jurisdictions such as Gibraltar, Malta or the Channel Islands, to come back "on shore". However, a remote gaming tax of 15 per cent in the last Budget and concerns over continuing uncertainty about policy meant no major operator has yet made the move and none has plans to.
A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media & Sport said: "The Gambling Act modernises 40-year-old gambling laws. For the first time, all operators will be required to put social responsibility at the heart of their operations and make sure that gambling is fair, crime-free, and that children and vulnerable people are protected. The tough new regulator the Gambling Commission will take action against any operator who is not able to meet the high standards of regulation introduced by the Act."
Sportingbet said pre-tax losses came in at us$ 31.6 million, largely due to one-off charges such as the relocation, against a profit of us$ 10.5 million during the same period last year. But stripping out one-offs and discontinued operations, it made a us$ 1.5 million profit against us$ 481,375 last time.
Sportingbet remains in talks with the Austrian betting company Bwin about a possible takeover but the talks are complicated by legal issues relating to Sportingbet’s former operations in the US. The shares slipped us$ 1.12 to us$ 26.84.