Blackpool will never be Las Vegas

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BLACKPOOL will never become the UK’s answer to Las Vegas.

That was the message from the leader of Blackpool Council after the door was opened for the possible return of the super-casino.

MPs want to see gambling laws relaxed and the power to control casinos placed back in the hands of local councils. But Coun Simon Blackburn said Las Vegas-style gaming was no longer the right thing for the town.

Blackpool’s super-casino bid – controversially snubbed by Government in 2007 – was designed to drive regeneration in the resort.

Thousands signed a Gazette petition against the Government’s decision to reject the town’s ambitious scheme in favour of Manchester.

But Coun Blackburn says bringing back those plans would no longer help Blackpool.

Coun Blackburn told The Gazette: “While I agree decisions taken about gambling venues are best taken locally, I do not feel seeking to resurrect the super-casino plans would be helpful.

“Council officers and members are working on an economic framework which encourages diversity within the local economy – a blend of private endeavours, council, NHS and civil service jobs, tourism and hospitality and the wider retail and service sector.

“We must acknowledge the pursuit of a mono-industry has repeatedly failed Blackpool.

“To now change track and pursue a gambling economy, or a gambling-based tourism revival would be to fail to learn the lessons of the past.

“It would fail to recognise that introducing further gambling opportunities into an already deprived town, saturated with opportunities to lose your shirt, may make things much worse rather than better.”

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The leader of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee behind today’s recommendations, John Whittingdale, said he no longer thought relaxing gambling laws would come in for the same amount of criticism it had previously.

He added: “There are a number of local authorities who have sought permission to establish casinos and in our view there isn’t any reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to if it is for the benefit of the local community. We think that if it is up to the Government to set the general rules, it should be left to local authorities to say whether they think establishing a casino in their area would be a good idea.”

Blackpool’s initial bid would have seen a cluster of super-casinos form part of a massive new conference and leisure quarter.

It was widely backed across the UK and championed locally by hoteliers, business leaders and MPs as a potential catalyst for regeneration.

But Claire Smith, president of Stay Blackpool, said she could understand the council’s current stance. She added: “I absolutely supported it last time round and the town really was knocked back and reeling from the decision.

“A super-casino would be a new attraction so in that respect it would be great, but since the bid there has been a lot of work done and the town is looking fabulous so I can absolutely appreciate why the council have now got a different view.”

Steve Pye, from the Federation of Small Businesses, said Blackpool could not afford to be turned down in an expensive bid again.

He added: “I don’t think there is the time, money or resources to throw at a super-casino again so it is dead and buried.

“We’ve been here before, got burnt and it would now have to be driven by a bigger organisation rather than the small businesses.”

The select committee is proposing gambling laws be relaxed to not only allow councils to dictate where casinos are built, but also to allow more high-stake slot-machines to be housed in them and betting shops.

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden, who campaigned for the super-casino, said simply increasing the number of slot machines was not the right approach.

He added: “The proposals would simply allow the proliferation of gambling machines on the high street and that is not going to do anything to regenerate tourism in Blackpool in the way the original super-casino proposal was supposed to.

“Lots of high value slot machines would be very negative and destructive for our seaside arcades.”

Blackpool missed out in its bid for a super-casino in 2007 when Manchester was selected as the Government’s preferred location for the UK’s first and only Regional Casino licence. The House of Lords later blocked the move after a Gazette campaign challenged Manchester’s selection.

Super-casinos were then scuppered entirely when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister and said there were better ways to regenerate towns than use gambling hubs.

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