Tessa Jowell today insisted that „Las Vegas is not coming to Great Britain“ as Manchester beat rival cities to host Britain’s first ever supercasino.
Although the decision is still to be ratified by parliament, Manchester defeated the two favourites – Blackpool and the Dome – when it was selected by an independent commission for its potential social impact on and regeneration of the area.
The culture secretary insisted that Manchester would be the only supercasino licence granted during the current parliament.
Academics from Lancaster University will study the impact of the project before more licences are permitted, Ms Jowell told MPs.
However, there is speculation that the unpredicted choice of Manchester will see renewed efforts from both Blackpool and the Dome further down the line.
A further 16 large and small casino licences were also announced today, in places ranging from Dumfries to Torbay.
MPs will probably vote before the summer to allow Manchester its licence, under the terms of the 2005 Gambling Act.
Ms Jowell promised that Britain would have the „strictest controls in the world“ on gambling, with no free alcohol, no „pumped oxgen“ to keep customers awake, and staff training to enable croupiers to spot problem gamblers.
The culture secretary promised there would be „no further casinos until proper evaluation over time has been made of the social and economic effects“ of gambling. She suggested this would not be before autumn 2010.
In today’s announcement, large casino licences were granted to Great Yarmouth, Kingston-upon-Hull, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Newham, Solihull and Southampton.
Smaller casino licences were granted to Bath and North East Somerset, Dumfries and Galloway, East Lindsey, Luton, Scarborough, Swansea, Torbay and Wolverhampton.
But Tory MP Malcolm Moss claimed the supercasino would be open 24 hours a day in a deprived and residential area of Manchester, exacerbating addictive gambling – and predicted MPs would vote against the choice on that basis.
The Liberal Democrats predicted much of the anticipated job creation from casinos would be filled by east European migrant workers.
The announcement of Manchester’s victory came as a blow to Blackpool’s hopes of an immediate regeneration from gambling, while the Dome, under its new American owners, was hoping to combine a new casino with a concert hall, hotel and Olympic facilities.
But both cities may draw hope from reports that the government may now revert to its original plan and allow further large casinos region-wide.
Steve Weaver, chief executive of Blackpool Council, whose bid was the bookmakers‘ favourite, said the resort was „surprised and hugely disappointed by the panel’s recommendation but we are not giving up“.
Manchester has now won the right to host a 5,000 sq metre casino with up to 1,250 unlimited slot machines.
The supercasino is to be built in Beswick, a poor area of east Manchester. It will be based at Sportcity, close to the City of Manchester stadium – built for the Commonwealth Games and now used by Manchester City football club.
The leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese, said: „This is fantastic news for Manchester and the region. We have always believed that Manchester offers a robust testbed for the successful implementation of this major leisure and tourism development.“
Manchester’s bid promises the „highest standards of social responsibility“, with an independent community trust to oversee its workings.
The proposed site is at the heart of a region with a population of 3 million potential gamblers.
Bid organisers say it will regenerate the area, promising a GBP 265m investment and 2,700 direct and indirect jobs in one of the most deprived parts of the country.
The site will also contain an entertainment complex with a range of facilities such as a multi-purpose arena, a swimming pool, an urban sports venue, restaurants, bars, a nightclub and a hotel.
Professor Stephen Crow, the chair of the independent Casino Advisory Panel which made the decision, told Sky News: „Blackpool was good, but it was a competition and Manchester was better.“
Prof Crow said the finalists had not been graded or listed, but Manchester simply chosen as the winner on three criteria – social impact, regeneration and the willingness to license.
He categorically denied there had been any lobbying from John Prescott’s office.
Although CAP‘s choice is not binding on ministers, it is expected they will recommend it to MPs when it comes to a vote in the Commons.
Doug Garrett, chief executive of ReBlackpool, the urban regeneration company that worked on the town’s bid, said his city would not be taking the announcement as „an end result“.
The relaxation of laws regarding casinos was made under the Gambling Act 2005, but after an enormous backlash from churches, gambling charities and the tabloid press, the government scaled back its plans.
An original tally of 40 supercasinos was reduced first to eight, and then to one „pilot“ scheme – whose location was chosen today by the independent Casino Advisory Panel CAP.
The other shortlisted cities were the Greenwich Dome in London, Blackpool, Cardiff, Glasgow, Newcastle and Sheffield.
The Dome in Greenwich – now called The O2 – was earlier regarded as favourite in the race, then Blackpool surged ahead at the 11th hour. Bookie Paddy Power made the resort its favourite and slashed the odds on it winning to 4/6 at the weekend.
The Institute for Public Policy Research’s centre for cities unit said Blackpool should have got the supercasino because it would have benefited most from the accompanying regeneration.
The troubled Dome’s supercasino bid sparked controversy after it emerged that the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, had stayed at the Colorado ranch of US billionaire owner Philip Anschutz.
Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) was forced to deny it was starting preparatory work in secret last summer to turn the south London site into a casino.
But a report at the weekend said the firm would pull up to GBP 350m of planned investment in Greenwich if it did not secure the supercasino.
According to the government’s criteria, the winning bidder must show „clear potential“ for regenerating the area.
Most of the bidders for the casino licence are US-based, with American companies seeing the UK as one of the most liberal regimes in the EU for gambling.
The large casinos will cover up to 1,500 sq metres and house up to 150 gaming machines with jackpots of up to GBP 4,000.
Small casinos will cover up to 750 sq metres and house up to 80 of the GBP 4,000 maximum jackpot gaming machines.
Ahead of today’s announcement, the Salvation Army and the Methodist Church issued a joint statement calling on the government to ensure the impact of more casinos was strictly monitored and assessed.
A report from the British Medical Association (BMA) earlier this month warned that more children and women could become hooked as betting laws are relaxed.
Doctors‘ leaders said gambling addiction should be treated on the NHS and that clinicians needed more training to spot problems.
The BMA‘s board of science also called on the government to review slot machine gambling to see if it should be restricted to over-18s. Changes to the rules could lead to a „disproportionate increase in problem gambling among women, ethnic and new migrant minorities“, the report said.