Resort puts its cards on the table - Saturday 12th of March 2005

Norfolk's biggest seaside resort is setting the pace in the race to attract a new-style casino projected to attract 3.3 million visitors a year.

Yarmouth Borough Council is believed to be the first authority in the eastern region to go for a regional casino licence, the move winning all-party support at a meeting of its executive committee.

Eight regional licences will be on offer provided the Government's Gambling Bill is passed, and the East of England Regional Assembly will be asked to weigh up the strength of bids from towns and cities across the region.

It is thought Yarmouth's main competition for a licence could come from Southend.

As revealed in the EDP earlier this month, a front-runner to build a casino if Yarmouth clinches the licence will be the seafront Pleasure Beach.

The amusement park has already unveiled plans ??? backed by the Hilton Group ??? in a joint venture partnership with property firm Henry Boot Developments.

Its multi-million-pound proposals for a 100,000 sq ft site next to the Pleasure Beach include a four-star hotel, multiplex cinema and bowling alley, as well as one of the new breed of casinos that will offer unlimited jackpots.

Barry Stone, the council's Cabinet member for the economy, said: "There is widespread cross-party agreement about the positive economic benefits a casino would bring the town."

He explained that if the council were granted a licence, it would become the licensing authority and have to decide on a particular casino scheme.

Council leader Barry Coleman said: "It will hopefully bring jobs and regeneration to the borough. This decision is really to put our hat into the ring when the various licences are looked at."

Labour leader Mick Castle said: "There could not be a better site than Yarmouth. I think we have a damn good chance, and it has backing from both sides of the council chamber."

Although the Pleasure Beach scheme will still have to win the council's vote if the town gets a licence, managing director Albert Jones was last night in buoyant mood.

He said: "We are delighted. The council has supported us from day one on this scheme.

"They realise Yarmouth needs the regeneration potential it will bring."

Mr Jones said they were confident their scheme was already well advanced, and they had the backing of the Hilton Group.

He stressed other elements of his scheme would go ahead regardless, and a deal had just been signed with a national bowling operator.

It is likely that the casino would not be open until 2008, so the scheme would not be dented if the Government's Gambling Bill were to be delayed by the general election ??? provided Labour won and restored it to the agenda.

In any case, a source at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said last that "on the balance of probability" the Bill would still make it through before arliament dissolves.

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