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Britain, Panama ready tospread their gaming nets!

Oct 1, 2002 5:00 AM

When it comes to the "global" part of Global Gaming, two countries stand out: Great Britain and Panama.

The Isle of Man’s well-documented Internet-based gaming foray has attracted 15 applicants, including heavy hitters MGM Mirage and Sun International. Now Britain is poised to substantially liberalize its laws to permit the expansion of land-based casinos.

"Religion is in sharp decline in Britain,’’ said David Lipsey, a member of the House of Lords and a director of the country’s Horse Race Totalisator Board (Tote). "The main opposition to gaming has come from the Methodists and there are only about a half-dozen of them left.’’

Lipsey predicted that Parliament could, as early as next summer, pass legislation to expand gambling options throughout the country. Noting that 72 percent of Britons have bought lottery tickets, the former journalists sees little resistance to rolling the dice.

"It’s a huge step forward. Britain is a natural (gaming) center and a gateway to Europe,’’ he said.

Lipsey’s views were echoed by Las Vegas casino moguls last week. "It’s a tremendous market,’’ said Mandalay Resorts chief Glenn Schaefer. "And you can count on (traffic from) Paris because France won’t do what the British do.’’

On the Internet front, Panama is making a pitch to rival the Isle of Man. The Latin American nation is expected to legalize net wagering by the end of this month and industry consultant Dai Leon argues that Panama enjoys several advantages.

"Panama will be the only country in the Western Hemisphere to have a fully regulated system. There are no corporate taxes and the World Bank rates Panama’s financial controls even higher than Britain’s,’’ he stated.

Leon, CEO of PanaNexus, said "many" U.S. Indian tribal casino owners are looking at Panama as a home base for Internet ventures. He declined to name the tribes but said information would be forthcoming in October when a group of Native American casino executives heads south of the border.

Compared with the Isle of Man, Panama may offer a better deal. While IoM imposes Britain’s corporate tax that runs about 20 percent and slaps a 2.5 percent tax on gross gaming yield, Panama has no such levies. Panama’s annual license fee of $20,000 is also far less than IoM’s $80,000 fee.

Panama has image problems, which weren’t helped by the recent failures of Enron and Global Crossing, both of which did business in the country.

"But [former strongman Manuel] Noriega is gone. The country has state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure. And U.S. money laundering laws are strictly enforced,’’ Leon says. "It’s the Switzerland of Latin America.’’