Six small casinos to close over new T&T gaming taxes

(Trinidad Guardian) Six small casino owners have decided to immediately close down their businesses and send home their workers due to the announcement of an increase in gaming taxes by Finance Minister Colm Imbert.

This was just one of the major fallouts yesterday in the wake of Imbert’s announcement during Monday’s budget.

Some international casino operators are also threatening to pull out of T&T if there is no change in the tax, while some large local casino operators are also weighing downsizing operations.

Speaking to the T&T Guardian yesterday, T&T Members Club Association (TTMCA) president Sherry Persad said some of the decisions were made during a two-hour emergency meeting casino owners held yesterday.

“Based on our meeting at least six small clubs expressed closure. Termination of workers can reach in the thousands by year’s end in light of the implementation of the increase of taxes from January 2018,” Persad said.

Noting the gaming industry hired over 9,000 people directly and 30,000 indirectly, Persad said members felt the punitive taxes unilaterally imposed on the industry were unfair.

“Discussions will begin with the Union of Members’ Clubs and Lottery Workers (UMCLW) about the staffing implications of the taxes and provide counselling support where possible,” Persad said.

She disclosed they will also seek legal advice on how to challenge the taxes.

UMCLW vice president Sean Clarke said the majority of the 9,000 employees in the industry were single mothers who also have limited education and live in poor communities. He also noted the industry had created indirect jobs for over 30,000 people, including taxi drivers, caterers, decorators, florists, air condition and refrigeration personnel, security guards and local entertainers and musicians year round.

Clarke said the union strongly disagrees with and rejects the imposing of a tax of over 100 per cent.

“It is because of our expertise in this industry we strongly disagree. The last time the industry was taxed without fit and proper consultations, it resulted in the contraction of the industry and the loss of jobs,” Clarke said.

“The Government must understand that the problems of the present economic crisis cannot be solved by unreasonably taxing the gaming industry, which will led to its death. Its workers cannot be singled out and targeted by the Government to solve the national finances.”

Maxine Gonzales, the sole breadwinner of her household, has been working in the industry for the past 11 years and has been taking home a minimum of $3800 a month. She now fears her job may be on the line.

“I stand on my own two feet and make an honest dollar. Now what might happen is that I may have to lie on my back to make that dollar… is that what the Minister is telling us to do by this tax?” she asked.

“The owners of these clubs will not be the ones to suffer, but they will now look at cutting costs by getting rid of workers. Minimum wage not going up but taxes going up and we are the ones being affected in all aspects of our lives.”

She added: “I am already stressed. How am I going to survive on a salary like this and with a falling economy? What I used to make in a day I am not even making it in a week. Now jobs are at stake.”

The TTMCA yesterday also sent letters to Imbert and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley seeking a meeting to discuss the taxes and their implications on the industry.

They will also send letters to the Joint Select Committee of Parliament requesting to be reheard on the issues of the proposed legislation and taxation measures for the industry, given the new taxes in the Budget. The TTMCA also sent a letter to Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar requesting they withhold their support for the Gambling Bill (2016) pending a comprehensive review of the taxes announced in the 2017/18 Budget.

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