Blackpool South MP Scott Benton's new proposal looks to put Blackpool super casino back on the cards

A new super casino could be back on the table for Blackpool after a resort MP urged a minister to consider granting the town a licence.

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 4:48 pm

Scott Benton, MP for Blackpool South, asked culture secretary John Whittingdale if he would commit to reviewing a case for a regional, or "super casino" in the resort.

Blackpool was competing with a number of centres across Britain to be chosen as the site for a super casino, back in 2006.

It had been plan A for the regeneration of Blackpool, with a huge hotels project earmarked for the former Central Station site.

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Blackpool South MP Scott Benton hopes a new super casino could be on the cards for the resort again.

The New Labour government had initiated a bidding competition following its Gambling Act in 2005 and the favourites to get the UK’s first destination casino were Blackpool, the Millennium Dome in London and East Manchester.

Councillors and many residents in the Blackpool felt the plan would give the town the regeneration it needed, creating jobs and attracting extra visitors.

A site at the old Central Station was identified as the preferred location for a new national conference centre and Las Vegas-style super casino.

So, political leaders in Blackpool reacted with dismay to the announcement in January 2007, that Manchester had been chosen to host Britain's first super casino instead.

Architect firm Gensler unveiled this picture of its proposed £350 million 160,000msq Conference and Casino Quarter in Blackpool back in 2006.

When the Casino Advisory Panel made its recommendation, it ended months of speculation over the site.

Steve Weaver, Blackpool Council's chief executive, said the resort was "surprised and hugely disappointed" the panel did not go for the favourite.

"It just just makes us more determined not to give up," he said at the time.

Blackpool South Labour MP Gordon Marsden said he was "obviously very disappointed" at the decision.

Although seven towns and cities were short listed to bid for the licence to build a venue for up to 1,250 unlimited-jackpot fruit machines, Blackpool was regarded as a joint front runner with Greenwich.

A campaign was even launched to get the decision changed and a petition of 11,514 delivered to Number 10.

Later that year, Manchester's own hopes were also dashed when the House of Lords scuppered the project, and Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister at the time, then decided to scrap the Super Casino project altogether.

However, in 2019 Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry said a super casino In Blackpool could help spark a "once in a generation" chance to regenerate the town and said he had discussed it with Blackpool Council.

In December the Government launched a review of gambling laws, and after Mr Benton's discussion in Parliament it appeared it would be revisiting a bid for super casinos.

Mr Benton put forward a new proposal for a super casino to Mr Whittingdale, with hopes it would boost the town's tourism industry and provide more jobs.

He asked: "Will the minister commit himself to reviewing the case for a regional casino during the gambling review and assess the significant positive economic impact that a regional casino could make to a town such as Blackpool, which would be the obvious location to host such a casino?”

Mr Whittingdale said "the legislation is still on the statute book and could therefore be utilised," if support for the bid was received well by residents, if a suitable operator could be found and if it was supported by Blackpool Council.

Blackpool currently holds four casino licences, with Grosvenor, which acquired the licence which became available when the Sam Tai Casino on Bloomfield Road closed in 2015, holding two of them with a lease until 2030 for the Sandcastle building.

Coral Island holds another of the resort's current casino licences, and the final is held by Genting Casino on Queen's Promenade.

Mr Benton said that although he had no specific area for the proposed super casino in mind as yet, he would welcome the addition to Blackpool South, his constituency.

He said: "My discussions at the moment are with operators to see if they would be interested, and if that's the case then I would put forward a strong case for Blackpool.

"I would like for it to be in my constituency, there are a huge number of derelict sites and brownfield land around.

"Originally 15 years ago it was always favoured for Blackpool central, but now that site is no longer on the table there would be a number of different opportunities.

"I don't think it would affect the existing casino offer, there's room for everybody. Regional casinos have always been a destination, obviously it would be available to local people as well but the idea is that people would visit Blackpool specifically to come for the leisure and gambling experience.

"If this were to come forward, potentially one of the existing operators could revamp their sites and make it much larger, so that's a possibility as well."

Mr Benton added that his vision for the super casino would not only involve the gambling aspect, but would bring more leisure opportunities and create jobs in different sectors such as hospitality.

He continued: "If this were to happen, it would entail a whole regeneration package. Hospitality could be added on to the gambling experience as well, and it would obviously present opportunities for more jobs, retail, more bars and restaurants. This would be a perfectly natural add-on to the casino.

"The benefits speak for themselves. We could be looking at thousands more jobs for local people, a huge boost to the economy, and hundreds of millions of pounds being spent locally, not just in the casino but in existing businesses as well."

However, Mr Benton acknowledged that Blackpool suffered "a number of different social and economic problems," but did not feel the casino would have a negative impact on residents.

"I don't think there would be [a negative impact], we already have casinos locally, so people can already use them," he added.

"Another one isn't going to see a situation where a lot of local people somehow want to go.

"If that was the case, casinos already have very strict processes in place to detect problem gambling. Betting or visiting a casino is no different to going to a pub, or other retail and leisure experiences."

In 2019, Former Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry MP caused waves when he appeared to bring the super casino bid back to the forefront of attention, despite the Government vetoing the idea of Vegas-style gambling in 2008.

Mr Berry said he had initial talks with council leaders about the scheme and other issues, and while he admitted it was at an early stage it could be “a very exciting project-" but nothing came to fruition.

But Blackpool Council said the Government had not discussed the potential for a super casino with the authority for a "number of years," however, it would be happy to engage in talks.

A spokesman for the council said: "Blackpool is focused on delivering the £300 million Blackpool Central scheme, only last night at the Council’s Executive meeting the next step in the process was agreed.

"It has been a number of years since the last time the Government mentioned the idea of a super casino to us. If this is an idea they are looking to progress we would be happy to discuss it with them."

Tony Williams, leader of the opposition at Blackpool Council, said he would welcome a new super casino in the resort, on the condition it provided more than just a gambling experience.

He said: "I’m all in favour of any new investment that has the potential to attract more visitors, especially in the winter months. However, a super casino needs to be a lot more than just roulette wheels and card tables.

"It needs to be a full blown entertainment complex that can cater for all ages and include accommodation, retail, leisure and a flexible event facility.

"We already have two great casinos in the resort and we are all aware of the perils of addiction and debt, so any new casino project would need to be a different scenario altogether.

"The term Casino means a public room for gambling and entertainment - a super casino would need to focus more on the entertainment element."