Americans want a slice of UK casino pie - Saturday 12th of March 2005
The UK gambling industry is set for big changes when the market is deregulated. Business Editor David Parkin spoke to American casino experts who want a part of this lucrative market.BRITAIN might be set for a series of super casinos to spring up, but don't expect them to resemble the shimmering gambling palaces of the Las Vegas strip.
The biggest UK casinos are more likely to resemble the smaller gaming resorts which have been built on Indian reservations across the US.
An American firm, which specialises in designing such establishments, is working with Yorkshire architect Gordon Carey as the British casino gaming market nears its biggest change in almost half a century.
They are already working on a casino project in Coventry with a major US group, and hope to win new projects in the near future.
Brad Friedmutter, an architect who used to work for Las Vegas casino tycoon Steve Wynn, owner of the Mirage, heads the Friedmutter Group, which has offices in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
"The Indian casinos are the perfect example, not the Las Vegas strip," says Friedmutter when asked about the British gaming market.
"When the legislation first came out, they thought it would affect Las Vegas, but Las Vegas revenue has still gone up. As it turns out, there was plenty of market for everyone.
"The reason that I say that the Indian casinos are such a good model is that most tribes realise that the casino function is the economic driver for a lot of visiting foot traffic for other entertainment venues, camping grounds, cultural attractions, museums for the Indian tribes," explains Friedmutter.
"There is no question that the economic driver is what enables the others to happen.
"Las Vegas Boulevard, or the Strip as it is known, is what everybody looks at in emerging gaming markets as the model but there is not going to be another of those for 50 years because it has taken Las Vegas 50 years to develop.
"Other than Atlantic City in a smaller way, you're not going to have places that have 20 4,000-room resorts where you have pyramids and erupting volcanoes. I just don't see it.
"When the different regional developers and architects come to look at the Strip, it must be confusing.
"The niche we have ended up doing is 'regional' or 'local' casinos."
Friedmutter says that these, typically, have 200-room hotels, restaurants and clubs.
"These, I think, are more appropriate to the UK market."
Both Friedmutter and his colleagues, Joseph Emanuele and Kenneth LeFevre ??? a former Atlantic City legislator ??? believe the lack of clarification on the legislation by the Government will hinder development of new casinos.
They warn that the big US casino groups may grow tired of the British government's delays and look at markets elsewhere.
"These are public companies who have stock holders and other interests so they can move on," says Friedmutter.
"It could get to the point of no return (for the US groups]," warns Emanuele.
"It is misleading calling these 'super casinos'. With 50 gaming tables it is not a 'super casino', but when compared to what you have now, which is 10 slot machines, then that is big but it's more a local casino in US terms," adds Emanuele.
riedmutter points to his firm's work on Green Valley Ranch, one of the new generation of Nevada gambling resorts.
"It is eight miles away from Las Vegas airport, it's for people who don't want to go to the Strip because it is too crowded. It does everything for them."
Gordon Carey points out that the new generation of British casinos could be the key to major leisure projects springing up around the UK.
The project on which he has worked with the Friedmutter Group in Coventry is part of the Coventry Arena development of a 32,000-seater stadium which will be the home of the city's football team.
"It's about what sort of facilities can spring up thanks to the cross-funding (from a casino]," says Carey.
And Friedmutter adds: "In Las Vegas, a majority of the gaming companies' revenue came from gaming, but it's got less now with revenue coming from other types of leisure activities, such as shopping and entertainment.
"The old days of a smoky casino have changed. They now offer food, shopping, sports and music concerts and shows.
"It used to be where these were loss-leaders. Nowadays, tickets for these can sell for more than $100 each. The venues have 2,000 to 3,000 seats and they are sold out every night.
"Then there is the celebrity show or a tour so Elton John will play (at a casino] as part of a tour."
For Gordon Carey, working on casinos represents a new and exciting challenge.
"I have designed bingo halls, restaurants and caf??s but it's good to open up new doors and start to understand a new area. By its nature, it is an enthusiastic business, a real energy business.
"I've talked with many people about how does Leeds and Yorkshire move on, it's about having international relationships and then interpreting it to the UK," he concludes.
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