Blackpool’s casino dream could be back on the cards after Prime Minister David Cameron told The Gazette his Government would look “favourably” on a fresh bid for a licence.
Although a Las Vegas-style supercasino remains off-limits, Mr Cameron has suggested the resort could still be considered for one of the remaining casino licences issued as part of the 2005 Gambling Act.
So far only two casinos approved following the relaxation of betting rules are up and running, out of 16 licences which were handed out.
Now Blackpool Council, which is still searching for a multi-million pound investment for the old Central Station site, has indicated it could pursue a gaming licence once more.
It is believed behind the scenes that securing more than one of the smaller licences could create a cluster of casinos bringing hotels, conference facilities and entertainment venues with it.
Mr Cameron said: “The proposal for the supercasino was too much and was dealt with at the time. What is still on the table are the medium-sized casinos, where licences would still be available.
“If Blackpool Council wants to look at a medium sized casino project then that would certainly be considered.
“There were 16 new casino licences and only two are operating.
“If Blackpool Council wanted to do something in that space, then we would look upon it favourably but I don’t think there’s an option to put the supercasino back on the table.”
Blackpool had hoped to put a supercasino on the Central Station site but lost out to a bid by Manchester City Council.
The licence would have allowed up to 1,250 unlimited-jackpot gaming machines, but the proposal was eventually thrown out by Government in 2008.
Since then Blackpool has been searching unsuccessfully for an alternative scheme for the Central Station land which has been used as a car park since the last trains ran 50 years ago this year.
Other towns and cities with new medium sized casinos – such as Birmingham – are claiming hundreds of jobs will be created by their developments while also boosting the local economy by millions of pounds.
And Mr Cameron’s positive response to The Gazette’s inquiry over any potential licence opportunity for Blackpool has interested town hall bosses in the resort.
Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said: “It is certainly very interesting that the Prime Minister believes that a licence or licences of this type could be available for Blackpool.
“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further and to consider how this might help us to develop the Central Station for the benefit of Blackpool’s residents and economy.”
Eight large casino licences, allowing 150 machines with a maximum jackpot of £10,000, were handed out to Great Yarmouth, Kingston-upon-Hull, Leeds, Middlesborough, Milton Keynes, Newham, Solihull and Southampton.
Of those, casinos are now open in Newham (near the Olympic Stadium), and Milton Keynes, both operated by Aspers.
Meanwhile, work has started on a £150m casino development next to the LG Arena in Birmingham, after Genting Casinos secured the licence from Solihull Council.
The scheme, due to open early next year, will include a four-star 170 bed hotel, a conference centre, 45 designer outlet shops, a cinema, bars and restaurants.
Accountancy firm PwC said the region’s economy would benefit by £58m during construction and £32.8m a year when the complex opens.
The company said the Birmingham scheme would create 1,750 jobs during construction and 1,100 hospitality and leisure jobs when it opens, taking advantage of some of the three million visitors to the NEC annually.
A £150m retail project in Leeds city centre is also due to include a new large casino.
However, projects in the other four towns have yet to take shape although three licences have been handed out to potential operators.
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group on Blackpool Council, said: “If we can go for a medium sized casino licence, I would want to see that being part of a bigger tourism development on that site, and one that is worthy of the centre of Blackpool.
“It’s good to see the Conservatives are willing to encourage further investment in Blackpool, and I hope we can start dialogue on this.”
Blackpool’s original bid was made on the basis the supercasino would not only create hundreds of local jobs, but provide a catalyst for regeneration.
Hundreds of millions of pounds of inward private sector investment disappeared the moment the then Government’s Casino Advisory Panel opted to give the one and only licence to Manchester.
That recommendation was shot down by the House of Lords after a massive campaign by the people of Blackpool.
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