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Brown Out

Manchester could go to court over super-casino says author Alex MacDougall, who explains that the decision by Prime Minister Gordon Brown is an important milestone in the failure of the U.K. industry to keep pace with the rest of the world.

In the U.K., officials in Manchester have announced they are considering a legal challenge in the wake of rumors that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is to submit a reworked casino development plan that does not include a provision for the city’s super-casino.

Numerous reports suggest that Brown is planning to formalize his much-discussed about-face on British gambling policy later this month, the biggest casualty being the super-casino project awarded last year to the northern city by predecessor Tony Blair.

The government’s decision to axe the city’s planned super-casino was allegedly confirmed in a letter to members of the Scottish and Welsh local governments late last month. The letter outlined plans to carry on with the development of 16 small and medium-sized venues but drop the super-casino, which was to have a minimum customer area of 5,000 square meters along with up to 1,250 unlimited-jackpot slot machines. It was thought the super-casino would attract up to $530 million in private investment and create about 3,000 jobs as well as regenerate a run-down area of east Manchester.

Officials in Manchester stated they had not been informed officially of the government’s decision, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport insisted there had been no final decision made on the super-casino.

“There is a statutory requirement for the secretary of state to consult Scottish and Welsh ministers before making a decision on how to proceed,” said a spokesman for the Dcmsggb.

“No final decision will be taken until ministers have had the opportunity to consider the views of Scottish and Welsh ministers.”

The U.K. currently has 137 casinos, but these are typically small affairs when compared to those in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, and the industry had lobbied hard for the right to construct palatial venues that could include hotels, conference centers and concert venues. Though a contentious issue, Blair’s government, after initially stating only a few years ago that up to 40 such sites could be permitted, had dropped the number, first to eight and then to just one in the face of opposition from religious and anti-gambling groups.

Manchester was a surprise winner when it was announced as the winning bid for Britain’s first Las Vegas-style super-casino last year. However, the House of Lords rejected the plan in March and the scheme was put in doubt when Brown asked for a review into other ways of regenerating Manchester a few months later.

The awarding of the bid to Manchester was also heavily criticized by the nearby town of Blackpool, which had been the presumptive front-runner for the super-casino. The ailing Lancashire seaside town had hoped to secure the venue to revive its fortunes.

Before leaving office in the midst of the House of Lords’ rejection, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed in the House of Commons that only Conservative intervention in the Lords had jeopardized the Manchester casino, whereas Labour’s original plan would have allowed super-casinos in both Manchester and Blackpool.

“Personally, I have never seen the reason why we should have Blackpool and Manchester pitted against each other,” said Blair. “If the investment is there and able to be done, let’s do both of them.”

Brown, the son of a minister and believed to be far more socially conservative than Blair, has never been a proponent of increasing the number of casinos, and his “review” has now dragged on for months without much having happened. Members of the opposition Liberal Democrat political party stated that the government’s policy on the issue was in disarray while the Conservatives said “flip-flops” had left the city’s regeneration plans in tatters.

Late last year, Manchester Council leader Richard Leese expressed concern at the lack of progress on the super-casino and requested a visit to Downing Street to speak to Brown.
“I’ve asked for this meeting with the prime minister because there seems to be no progress on our plans to create a leisure city anchored by an international destination casino,” wrote Leese.
“Twelve months ago an independent panel recommended that Manchester should be granted permission to license the only British regional casino following a rigorous inspection and examination process. But the project has been stalled by controversy including sour losers, inaccurate information, a vote in the unelected House of Lords and then a government review.”
This meeting has yet to happen, and if Manchester does decide to legally challenge Brown’s decision to cancel its super-casino, it is hard to see how the local council with its Labour majority would proceed against members of the same political party currently sitting in power in Westminster. Manchester is one of the traditional heartlands of the Labour party, and experts in the industry claim the most likely outcome is one of political wheeling and dealing where neither party gets everything they want.

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