A LAS Vegas style casino in Southampton has moved a step closer to becoming a reality as top-level talks get under way.
Casino industry leaders are set to meet civic bosses to discuss how the development could take shape.
When this is complete the council will begin inviting bids from casino operators in an open competition which will look for the application bringing the “greatest benefit” to the city.
City council leader Cllr Richard Williams said: “It is an opportunity and something that the administration wishes to explore, but we need to ensure that this process is water- tight.”
It is understood that it could take 18 months before a licence is awarded and will involve a consultation with residents.
More than a dozen companies, including international operators, have so far contacted the council to register an interest in bidding for the project.
As previously reported, the city council has earmarked the major £450m redevelopment of the waterfront at the Royal Pier as its preferred location for a large casino. Kutis restaurant would not be affected by any development.
A super-sized casino, one of only eight allowed in the country, could land the cash-strapped council with a windfall and bring hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds of regeneration to the city.
The licence would allow an operator to build a casino housing 150 slot machines with jackpots of up to £4,000 and up to 30 tables for blackjack and poker. Regular casinos have a limit of 20 slot machines.
But senior clergymen in Southampton, including the Bishops of Winchester and Southampton, have warned it would lead to a rise in problem gambling, debt, alcoholism and other social ills, particularly among the poor.
Southampton was one of eight local authorities that were, four years ago, granted the right to award a “large casino” licence brought in by the last Labour Government.
But the recession, changes in gambling duties and the council’s previous lack of interest in moving the controversial issue forward stalled progress.
The first large casino opened its doors in Stratford, east London, near the Olympic stadium, earlier this year creating 440 jobs. The operator, Aspers, has agreed to pay Newham Council at least £1m a year from its takings.