Casino wars - Saturday 12th of March 2005

A battle is looming over who will run the North East's first Las Vegas-style super casino.

Leaders of the Newcastle United MGM Mirage team were today outlining details of their plans to create thousands of jobs at a huge new ??200m casino, hotel and convention centre close to St James' Park.

Meanwhile, news of a rival bid by another American operator, the Isle of Capri Casino Group, leaked out today.

The Chronicle can reveal that the Mississippi-based company has expressed an interest in building a casino complex on the banks of the Tyne in Newcastle.

This the fourth potential super casino development in the region but only one can go ahead.

Sunderland Football Club is backing a bid by American casino operator Las Vegas Sands Inc for a ??100m gaming and entertainment complex next to the Stadium of Light.

The Middlehaven development site in Middlesbrough, close to the Riverside football stadium, has also been suggested as a possible location.

The development of a super casino in the North East depends upon the success of the Government's Gambling Bill which is currently with the House of Lords.

If this becomes law eight regional super casinos will be allowed with locations decided by Ministers at the end of 2006 on the advice of an independent panel which will consult local authorities and regional development agencies.

Leaders of the Newcastle MGM Ltd project were outlining their plans to city councillors and officers today to build on the car park already owned by the football club next to St James' Park Metro Station.

The club teamed up with the $10bn MGM Mirage group, the biggest casino operator in the world with resorts in Nevada, Mississippi and Michigan, employing 40,000 people, after rejecting half a dozen other potential partners.

The project, which would include a national staff training centre, would create around 2,000 jobs at the complex itself, targeting local people in one of the city's most deprived areas. The company believes the venture could lead to around 6,600 jobs, including spin-off businesses and construction of the massive complex.

It calculates the benefits of a state-of-the-art leisure complex linked to Newcastle United will be worth up to ??50m a year for the local economy while the deployment of 95 security staff will provide support for local police at night.

Meanwhile, bosses of the Isle of Capri Casino Group are seeking permission to make their own presentation to the council.

Details of the group's proposals are not known but they could fit in with the council's plans for a new hotel and convention centre complex in the Discovery Quarter, earmarked for major redevelopment, including 2,400 new homes, offices and shops. The scheme is one of the biggest regeneration projects in the UK, covering a huge swathe of land from the old Tyne Brewery at Gallowgate to the area behind Newcastle Central Station.

The Isle of Capri Group, based in Biloxi, Mississippi, is interested in a site in Pottery Lane on the banks of the Tyne between the Redheugh and King Edward bridges.

It was launched in 1992 by Bernard Goldstein, nicknamed the "Father of riverboat gambling", and has grown into a billion dollar operation ranked among the top 10 gaming companies in the US.

Coun Greg Stone, Newcastle City Council executive member for development and regeneration, said: "We want to see what the Government legislation says before we make a decision on what is appropriate for Newcastle.

"We are aware there are people with different views on this controversial subject.

"My view is that we have a duty to consider any proposal which comes to us."

Coun Nick Forbes, who represents Westgate ward where both sites are located, said: "I will be listening with interest to both presentations and asking questions about the economic benefits for the city and how local communities are to be consulted.

"At the moment, my preference would be for a local company that would invest in the region rather than someone from outside looking to make a fast buck."

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