£150m gamble over casino bid - Friday 12th of August 2005

SHEFFIELDS ambitions of being home to a huge regional casino have taken a major step forward with the unveiling of a revamped £150 million scheme for the Don Valley Stadium.

South African gaming corporation Sun International has revealed a new and bigger project for the stadium that now includes an extensive city park and a 120 bedroom hotel.

The hotel could be used by athletes and sports teams visiting the neighbouring English Institute of Sport, as well as visitors to sports and leisure attractions.

The move adds to speculation that the Government may decide to allow more than one regional casino to open in the UK, despite a pre-election pledge that there would be just one - possibly in Blackpool.

Sun International and its partner Sheffield City Trust believe their scheme would create one of the most modern sports and leisure areas in the UK - surpassed only by the London 2012 Olympic Park.

They also have hopes of becoming the training camp for the South African Olympic Squad when they compete in London in the 2012 games.

Neil Murphy, UK Director of Development, said at the British Grand Prix Athletics meeting at Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield yesterday: "Sun International and Sheffield City Trust have been working closely to put forward proposals which will transform this area of Sheffield into the best sports and leisure quarter in the UK at least until the Olympic village is built for the London 2012 Olympics."

Mr Murphy added: "It would be Sun Internationals dream to play a small part in putting the infrastructure in place to make Sheffield the host city to South Africa as a training camp prior to the London 2012 Games."

The new urban park, drawn up after consultation with residents, would create 23 acres of open space, extending from the Hallam FM Arena to the Don Valley Stadium, integrating all the sports and leisure facilities already based in the Lower Don Valley.

The Sun plans include the development of the tram stop and a new park and ride scheme.

For Sun International the main draw is the chance of establishing a large regional casino on a site accessible to much of the UK by car.

Mr Murphy said: "We believe that these plans will hugely benefit the people of Sheffield through jobs and training, boosting the local economy and creating an integrated sports and leisure quarter for the Lower Don Valley. My conversations with council officials to date suggest that we will be the catalyst for the Lower Don Valley masterplan, kick-starting the full vision encouraged by the council."

The Gambling Act was passed in April with the initial number of proposed regional casinos reduced from eight to just one.

The Government is now understood to be considering increasing this number back up to four and possibly six.

It is widely believed that if this happened, Yorkshire and Humberside would be in a strong position to be awarded one.

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