On 30th January, the recommendation on the location of the first Las Vegas-style "super-casino" in the UK is due to be published by the Casino Advisory Panel, an independent adviser to the government. This recommendation will then be considered by Parliament which will vote on the matter at a later date.
There are several cities and towns in the running including London, Blackpool, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow, Sheffield and Newcastle, but it is widely believed that the ante-post favourites are London and Blackpool. London (on the site of the Millennium Dome) has already received a vote of sorts when it was given a top ranking in a preliminary vote by the advisory panel.
This drew a public condemnation of a rigged vote due to the apparent desire of the government to have the casino sited in London. Accusations of favouritism with the site's American backers filled the newspapers along with claims that it would justify the money spent on the Millenium Dome itself which reflected badly on the government at the time of its construction. It is effectively a ready-made site.
Blackpool is considered to be in line because the area is in dire need of regeneration. Blackpool's local powers-that-be have been beating the drum this week in an effort to make a final push for the recommendation.
Blackpool's glorious past as a seaside and holiday resort is now a sepia-tinged memory. The banks of Victorian hotels and guest houses are peeling and many are for sale or boarded up. The place is also regarded by some residents as a no-go area on Friday and Saturday evenings due to the binge-drinking of youths who are the mainstay of the town centre bars.
The Council's figures suggest that hotel occupancy rates are little higher than 20% and the area as a whole has suffered savagely from the decline of manufacturing in the North West, together with the ease and affordability of overseas holidays.
Champions of Blackpool's super-casino bid offer many reasons why it would benefit the town. One hotel owner is quoted as saying that people will no longer regard Blackpool as an unattractive town and will urge their friends to go, thus creating a cumulative effect on new visitor numbers.
Alan Cavill, head of corporate policy and development for Blackpool Council, says:
"I would say I am hopeful rather than confident. We still believe we have the best case and hope the panel recognises this, but nobody really knows which bid is favourite at the moment. I just wish a week would pass so we can get the result and move on to the next stage, whatever that may be. Failure to obtain the licence would be devastating for Blackpool. We have other irons in the fire, hopes and ideas, but no other thing that we know about that will provide that sort of change.
It is claimed that the Blackpool super-casino would create up to 3,400 jobs and attract around 3,000,000 annual visitors bringing in about £96,000,000 a year, or over 5% of the local economy.
However, Steven Bate, of the "Campaign Against Super-Casino Expansion" believes that more gambling will harm Blackpool's already seedy image. He said:
"Forget Las Vegas. The idea that it will attract high rollers and James Bond-type characters all the way from London to Blackpool is nonsense. The reality will be coaches full of pensioners turning up on Tuesday afternoons in February, just like you get in Atlantic City".
This is presumably a response to the recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme that cast a poor light by comparisons with the US city's crime rate.
Whichever location is given the nod, we can be confident that the arguments between the "Ayes" and the "Noes" will have only just begun and local journalists will be busy taking down strong views in seven areas of the UK.
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