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Irish tax on online gambling faces further delay

Ireland's Finance Minister Michael Noonan attends an interview with Reuters at his office in central Dublin February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's stalled plan to tax online gambling will be further delayed into 2015, the country's finance minister said, offering bookmakers such as Paddy Power a longer grace period before the charge is levied.

Ireland first announced plans to bring online operators into the tax net in 2011 by seeking to extend a one percent tax on bets placed in shops to wagers made online or over the telephone from customers based in Ireland.

The legislation has been delayed a number of times and a standstill period it is currently subject to has been extended into January after Malta raised concerns over the licensing laws for operators who are already licensed by another jurisdiction.

"As soon as the standstill period is completed, it is my intention to progress all remaining stages of the Bill through the Oireachtas (parliament)," Finance Minister Michael Noonan said in a parliamentary reply to an opposition spokesman that was published on Sunday.

"I share the Deputy's frustration at the delays involved in progressing the Bill."

A bill usually takes a number of weeks or months to go through Ireland's houses of parliament before becoming law.

Paddy Power, which makes over three-quarters of its profits online, has said the tax would have cost it 7 million euros last year. Its profit before tax for 2013 was 141 million euros and it had told investors in August that it expected the bill to be introduced before the end of this year.

The new tax in Ireland comes as Paddy Power and other major bookmakers like Ladbrokes and William Hill grapple with tighter regulation and additional taxes in Britain.

London is set to close a loophole this month that allows bookmakers to minimise tax bills on online earnings by basing operations offshore in places like Gibraltar. It will also raise taxes on high stakes gambling machines from March next year.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Stephen Powell)