Casino Bid On The Table - Saturday 12th of March 2005

Torbay is bidding to become one of the "trial" areas in Britain for a super casino.

But the English Riviera will be looking for a sophisticated Monaco style operation rather than a brash Las Vegas type gambling den.

Fears have been voiced nationally that casinos will be honey pots for criminals such as drugs dealers and money-launderers.

But the resort has approached the Government to say it would like to be a pilot area and five organisations are already keen to come into the area.

Richard Morgan, chief executive of Torbay Development Agency, said a lot of people had already expressed interest.

He added: "There are in fact five organisations already with five locations in mind which are expressing interest. I think if we were to succeed in getting a pilot I don't think we would have any difficulty in establishing a location and a supporting organisation. If you have any allegiance at all to the English Riviera concept, then we would say the Monaco model, where you have a sophisticated building operating and a sophisticated casino is exactly the kind of model we should be aspiring to."

Mr Morgan said that under the Gambling Bill proposals, the current control of the Gaming Board which awards casino licences would be handed over to local authorities.

"It will be up to the local authority to ensure we get the right sort of operator, in the right location, so we can get the degree of sophistication that we want."

He explained: "If the Gambling Bill goes through, there are going to be three groups of eight pilot casinos for the whole country.

"They are three different sizes, small, large and regional - small being over 750 square metres, large being 1,500 square metres and regional being 5,000 square metres. We have already applied to the Regional Development Agency and the Government Office for the South West and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to be considered as the location for one of those pilot casinos.

"The evidence is overwhelming that even a large casino will create 1,500 new jobs. If you take the vision that Torbay Development Agency has for Torquay it is to take the general infrastructure upmarket and to be somewhat more sophisticated as a holiday resort and for the residents as well.

"We believe casinos, not withstanding the legitimate concerns about children and vulnerable people, are highly supportive of regeneration. They bring a lot of wealth and they bring a lot of jobs."

He said the casino would bring more wealth into the hotels and retail sector of the Bay as it would attract new visitors to the area.

"You are encouraging people down here who will be spenders on other facilities, be it hotels, restaurants, shops.

"It's additional tourists that we currently don't have. Our current casino is a very small one. We are trying to enhance our overall offer to visitors. We would contend that as a resort area we have unique advantages in that we have the hotels and everything like that for the visitors, and we have the expertise in running top attractions. We offer a better management structure to put this things together.

Mr Morgan added: "But it needs to be balanced and the Gambling Bill itself tries to balance correct protection of minors and vulnerable people together with the exploitation of the wealth associated with casinos."

Mr Morgan, who has been to a conference on the question of casinos, said some councils have already made approaches to the Government in other regions.

"There are people who have studied this with considerable expertise who say the really vulnerable issue is impulse gambling, people who can't resist having a flutter.

"The casino legislation will prevent there being an uncontrolled array of slot machines. There will be added security, you will have to have membership and there will be door staff. It will be regulated.

"The experts contrast it with internet gambling which is totally uncontrolled. And when it comes to impulse gambling, every grocers store and supermarket across the country sells scratchcards.

"They say there is legal, except minors, access to unlimited gambling so they say controlled, well managed membership casinos are far better at restricting use by vulnerable gamblers ."

The Gambling Bill has cleared its Commons stages and currently in the House of Lords where it is being examined by a committee.

It has already been considerably watered down and initial plans for up to 40 super casinos have been scrapped and there will be up to eight in each category of large, medium and small.

Ministers fear Peers could further restrict the number of casinos allowed, as they struggle to force the Bill through the upper house before a May 5 General Election.

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