Plans for Britain’s first super-casino were plunged into controversy and a probable legal challenge last night after Manchester was unexpectedly selected over the Dome at Greenwich and Blackpool.
The Government was also facing the prospect of a Commons rebellion after an advisory panel rejected the two front runners and plumped for Manchester, previously the 16-1 outsider at the bookmakers.
Up to 1,250 unlimited jackpot gaming machines will be housed in a SportCity complex in Beswick, a rundown area of east Manchester, bringing with it some GBP 265 million investment and as many as 2,700 jobs.
The decision by the Casino Advisory Panel stunned Westminster and led to bitter recriminations in Greenwich, widely seen as the favourite.
Councillors in the south-east London borough claimed „the curse of the Dome has struck again“. They blamed the Government’s links with the proposed casino’s American developers for its failure to win the bid. Licences were granted for new „large“ casinos at Great Yarmouth, Hull, Newham, Middlesbrough, Solihull, Milton Keynes, Leeds and Southampton.
A further eight „small“ casinos will be built in Bath and North East Somerset, Dumfries and Galloway, East Lindsey, Luton, Scarborough, Swansea, Torbay and Wolverhampton. All 16 will have maximum jackpots of GBP 4,000.
The surprise decision to site the first Las Vegas-style super-casino in Manchester provoked angry protests from MPs as well as rejected bidders, who demanded to know how the „dark horse“ contender had scooped the jackpot. Last August, Greenwich was top of the first stage ranking, with 67 points, Glasgow second on 66, Blackpool on 65. Manchester was way down in eighth place on 57 points.
But the panel ruled out the Dome because it was not the best place to test the social impact of a supercasino and redevelopment of the area was already underway.
The American-owned Anschutz Entertainment Group. which is pumping GBP 350 million into the Dome, is now „considering all its options“, which are understood to involve launching a legal appeal against the decision.
It spent much of yesterday in talks with its City lawyers Olswang, discussing its next move.
Ten days ago in an interview with The Daily Telegraph the head of AEG in Europe, David Campbell, said he would „institute a judicial review“ if the advisory panel marked down Greenwich, from its original high scoring.
Doug Garrett, the chief executive of ReBlackpool, the urban regeneration company which worked on the town’s bid, called the decision a „smack in the face“.
There was deep disappointment in the declining seaside resort. A local resident Andy Graham said he was not surprised, but it had been Blackpool’s last chance. „We might as well switch the lights off and all leave town,“ he said.
Stephen Crow, the chairman of the independent Casino Advisory Panel, said Manchester had been chosen because of its „very thorough consultation“ with the local community and „the way it dealt with questions of problem gambling“.
He added: „Manchester has a catchment area for a casino second only to that of London, and it is an area in need of regeneration at least as much as any others we observed.“
But there was opposition from religious leaders.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said the area where the project would be based had a long history of deprivation.