Scramble for super casino turns into lottery

The scramble to house the UK’s only Las Vegas-style super casino is turning into a lottery. The body set up to decide its location has already received more than 40 applications and its head says he does not know how to choose between them.

Professor Stephen Crow, head of the government’s Casino Advisory Panel, said “fairness and rigorous examination will be our watchwords” when assessing the applications. But when asked how he would choose, he said: “How are we going to make up our minds? I don’t know.”

With the deadline for applications not until March 31, more authorities are expected to register interest in having a super casino. Blackpool is the favourite to win the licence, having made a super casino the cornerstone of a city-wide regeneration programme.

However, London is also hopeful of winning the licence, with super casinos planned at the new Wembley Stadium and next to the Millennium Dome.

Under the government’s controversial new gambling laws, which were passed last year, only one super casino will be allowed. An additional eight medium-sized casinos and eight large ones will also receive licences.

Speaking at a Social Market Foundation seminar to an audience that included several US casino operators, Prof Crow said most local authorities were only interested in super casinos. “They are not so interested in the large or small ones,” he said.

The government originally intended to grant eight super casino licences but was forced to cut the number to one after tense negotiations with the Conservatives in the run-up to the last general election.

Richard Caborn, gambling minister, said recently the legislation could be revisited and the number of super casino licences increased – provided there was sufficient support from local authorities, MPs and the public.

The Conservatives hinted on Thursday it would support licensing more super casinos when Malcolm Moss, shadow minister for gambling, blamed Labour backbenchers for the government’s failure to increase the number.

He said the Tories would back an increase provided there were other changes in the Gambling Act, such as the granting of more rights to incumbent UK operators. “We would revisit [the Act] on a number of issues, not just the isolated one of regional casinos,” he said.

Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and London all hope to win a super casino licence, with authorities striking deals with operators including MGM Mirage, Kerzner International and Harrah’s Entertainment.

The Greater London Authority spoke out in favour of more licences. “We favour two pilot casino projects,” said Andrew Barry-Pursell, from the economic and business policy unit of the mayor’s office.

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