Odds go against NEC casino bid - Thursday 8th of December 2005

THE National Exhibition Centres chances of landing a super casino have been badly undermined by the body set up to pick the winning bid, it was revealed today.

New guidelines insist the location for £1 million jackpot machines must have social impact, include areas of high unemployment and social deprivation, and be backed by local people.

The rules set by the Governments Casino Advisory Panel - leaked to the Birmingham Mail - might almost have been written with Birmingham City FCs ambitious £300 million leisure complex on 59 acres of deprived Saltley in mind.

Backed by a £117 million cash injection from Las Vegas Sands, the project is focused on a 55,000 seater, multi-purpose stadium and the creation of 6,000 new jobs.

Labour councillors, frustrated at the delay in choosing between Blues and the NECs yet-to-be-revealed plan, will today be pressing leaders of Birminghams Lib-Dem coalition to hasten a decision.

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But cabinet regeneration chief Coun Ken Hardeman insisted the city needed to be seen to be fair and unbiased in eventually choosing which one of the rival bids to put forward to the Government by a March deadline.

The council, he said, would soon appoint an independent expert to advise it whether the NEC or Blues bid was best.

Coun Hardeman, himself a firm supporter of the Blues bid, said: "It is a process we have to be seen to go through in the interests of equality and fairness."

Blues managing director Karren Brady believes the sports village, underpinned by a super casino, will have lasting benefits for the whole region and argues the regeneration aspect of the proposals will leapfrog it above all rival bids.

Meanwhile, the NEC is keeping its powder dry. A spokesman said: " We have not announced details of our bid, but we are convinced our proposals will meet the guidelines."

Deputy Labour leader Coun Ian Ward said: "Of the two Birmingham bids for a super casino, there is only one going to stand a chance on these guidelines.

"Other cities like Glasgow, Blackpool, and Coventry have made a decision and are already lobbying hard.

"But we are run in Birmingham by people who cant make up their mind about even bringing one bid to the starting gate. We are in real danger of missing out."

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