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Reality of large style casino in Southampton moves closer
IT’S the multi-million pound gamble that has been hovering over civic chiefs in Southampton for years.
A Las Vegas-style casino could bring hundreds of vital jobs and millions of pounds into the city’s economy.
With it though comes the public health warning issued by some community leaders fearing of a rise in gambling addiction and debt.
But today the Daily Echo can reveal that the prospect of a huge gambling den in the city has moved a step closer.
It comes after councillors in the city agreed the draft rules they will use to award a controversial casino licence to a potential operator.
A super-sized casino, one of only eight allowed in the country, could land the cash-strapped council with a cash windfall, bring hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds of regeneration to the city.
Casino operators have in recent months renewed their interest in building a giant casino in Southampton, the Daily Echo understands.
More than a dozen companies, including international operators, have so far contacted the council to register an interest in bidding for the licence.
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 have seen little progress – until now.
New council leader Richard Williams said he was keen to launch a public consultation on having a large casino in the city.
He said while some people will have “legitimate reservations”
about super casinos, having one in Southampton would bring a big boost to the economy and be a significant attraction to “Destination Southampton”.
The licence would allow an operator to build a casino housing up to 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.
The first large casino opened its doors in Stratford, 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.
A similar arrangement could be agreed in Southampton where the city council has earmarked the major £450m redevelopment of the waterfront at Royal Pier as its preferred location for a large casino.
But an operator could come forward and ask to apply for the licence on a location of its choice.
In a report commissioned by the council five years ago, consultants reckoned the supercasino would pump an estimated £11m annually into the local economy.
Southampton is understood to be one of the most desirable of the locations granted the right to issue a large casino licence, and is only one on the south coast.
Former council leader Royston Smith said his Conservative group had always promised to have a meaningful consultation or preferendum on a large casino.
He said there were differing views among his councillors and no decision has been made as to how they would vote.
Cllr Williams said a public vote on the casino remained an “option”, he said.
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.
A previous Daily Echo online poll, four years ago, revealed 52 per cent of readers were in favour of a supercasino in Southampton.
The Chamber of Commerce backed the council’s bid to get the licence as away to bring investment and jobs into the area and unlock the development of the waterside provided safeguards were put in place to prevent people becoming hooked on gambling.
Although it acknowledged potential “downsides” such as transport problems and money being spent on gambling instead of local goods and services.
The updated council licensing policy has been put out to consultation to come back for final approval in November.
The council could then invite bids from casino operators in an open competition which will look for the application bringing the “greatest benefit” to the city.
However it understood the process could take around 18 months before a licence was awarded, sometime in 2014.