Plans for a Las Vegas-style super-casino will be in tatters if the government loses Wednesday night’s knife-edge parliamentary votes to approve Manchester as its site, Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, warned on Tuesday.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Ms Jowell said there “could be no Plan B quickly” implemented if MPs or peers defeated an order approving the Manchester super-casino and 16 other casinos. “I would have to consider very carefully and consult widely with colleagues,” she said.
Gordon Brown is opposed to any expansion of the existing 17 proposed casinos and could block any moves to create a super-casino in the wake of a parliamentary defeat. Ms Jowell did not reject outright the suggestion the entire super-casino policy could be jeopardised by a defeat, saying: “I don’t want to be apocalyptic about it, nor do I want to hold out any threats to people.”
Tony Blair on Tuesday met the two Blackpool MPs leading the Labour rebellion against Manchester, amid frantic last-minute efforts to avert a defeat. Gordon Marsden, one of the rebels, told the FT the prime minister had been “very sympathetic” but unable to answer their principal concern about the way Manchester was selected by the government’s advisory panel.
Ms Jowell highlighted concessions the government hopes to offer rebels on Wednesday. A multi-million-pound regeneration pot for Blackpool will be complemented by tacit ministerial backing for a new committee of MPs and peers to look at future casinos. But Ms Jowell stressed the initiative would not affect government policy, which is to rule out any new casinos being approved in this parliament.
The culture secretary angrily rejected suggestions the government was trying to bribe rebels with the funding for Blackpool, which is being co-ordinated by Downing Street. “We’re not talking about buying off a rebellion,” she insisted. “This is very much in response to specific representations by a very large number of MPs . . . there is no question that I am doing some sort of backstairs deal.”
Wednesday night’s votes are expected to be very close. Defeat in the Lords or Commons would, in effect, kill off the order approving the casinos. Ms Jowell warned that the government could not simply substitute one of the casino sites recommended by the advisory panel for another. “Every single local authority that had not succeeded would have a pretty justified case for a judicial review if they felt that arbitrary considerations were replacing the very clear criteria of the independent panel.”
Ms Jowell disclosed she had been given advance warning of the surprise
50 per cent tax imposed on super-casinos and other large casinos by the chancellor in the Budget. But she refused to say whether she had fought against the proposal when Mr Brown telephoned her.
The government’s gambling policy would not be destroyed by a defeat on Wednesday night, Ms Jowell insisted, saying casinos were a “small part” of the overall strategy.