/ 30 January 2007

Shocked Manchester wins first UK super casino

The northern city of Manchester unexpectedly won the fight to host Britain’s first Las Vegas-style super casino on Tuesday, beating off challengers including nearby Blackpool and London’s Millennium Dome.

Most industry analysts had predicted either Blackpool, the Dome or Glasgow in Scotland would win.

The giant casino is expected to generate thousands of jobs on its 5 000 square-metre floor and in surrounding bars, hotels, cinemas and other leisure venues.

Local MP Graham Stringer said he was ”astonished” but delighted that Manchester had won the bid.

”It’s going to bring a lot of jobs and regeneration to a part of the city that really needs it,” Stringer told BBC television.

But others were less impressed, including those behind a bid by United States entertainment mogul Philip Anschutz, who had already built the foundations for a big casino in the Dome.

”We are very disappointed,” said his Anschutz Entertainment Group.

Bookmaker Paddy Power said it had taken just eight bets on a Manchester win, with odds of 16 to 1, while Blackpool was the favourite at 8 to 15 and the Dome was in second position at 15 to 8.

Parliament must now rubber stamp the decision by the government’s Casino Advisory Panel before companies start bidding to develop and operate the Manchester casino and 16 smaller venues.

Analysts expect overseas firms, such as Malaysia’s Genting and US-based MGM Mirage, to play a major role.

Stephen Crow, who chaired the deciding panel, emphasised the importance of the casino fuelling growth in a run-down area. ”Manchester … is an area in need of regeneration, at least as much as any of the others we observed,” he said.

Legal threat

The Manchester super casino will be allowed 1 250 slot machines, while licences for eight large casinos with 150 machines each were awarded to Great Yarmouth, Hull, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Newham, Solihull and Southampton.

The process, which started last August, has been surrounded by controversy after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott failed to declare a visit to Anschutz’s Colorado ranch or that the entertainment mogul had gifted him a cowboy outfit.

Local councils have threatened legal action after being overlooked and existing casino operators have threatened to sue if their venues suffer direct competition.

Prime Minister Tony Blair originally envisaged 20 to 40 giant casinos for Britain, potentially bringing thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of overseas investment.

But under sustained pressure last year from anti-addiction campaigners and the opposition Conservative Party, the number was cut back to eight and finally to just one.

”This process has been mired in controversy thanks to the government’s apparent closeness to overseas casino operators, and this will no doubt lead to the decision being mired in the courts for some considerable time,” said Shadow Secretary of State for Culture Hugo Swire.

A Whitehall source said Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell would later speak to Parliament, ruling out any further UK casinos before 2010.

After half of the country’s casino industry was snapped up by foreign investors last year, including companies such as Stanley Leisure and London Clubs, the promised boost to British business will be limited. — Reuters