Dome owner Casino hope crumbles - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

The curse of the Millennium Dome could be about to strike again. The future profitability of the controversial attraction is at risk because the structure is unlikely to be able to house a megacasino.

Last week, the government was forced to climb down under Conservative Party pressure and only allow one megacasino under new gambling legislation which became law last Friday.

The planned casino, which could have 1,250 slot machines, is widely expected to be in Blackpool rather than in the dome in London's Docklands. The building's new owner, the secretive US tycoon Philip Anschutz, wanted a megacasino to lure visitors in on a daily basis. Failure to get it will be a huge setback for him. A spokes woman said: 'Of course we're disappointed at the outcome of this legislation.'

Under a government deal Anschutz pays about ??3m a year for the dome, so he is unlikely to lose money. However, without a casino to underpin the events he anticipates staging there, profits will slump. The government's returns will also be compromised because the dome contract is arranged in the form of a profit-sharing public-private partnership.

The dome, empty for years having cost taxpayers close to ??1bn, is an embarrassment to Tony Blair, who championed the derided project.

Meanwhile, many overseas operators furious that the government closed the door on supercasinos are convinced that after the election they will be able to revisit their plans.

And gambling industry insiders believe that the Rank Group, the leisure conglomerate, is now being stalked by private equity firms. Employees acknowledge mounting speculation about an offer. Rank is seen as a big winner following the Gambling Act because its Mecca bingo arm is earmarked for surging growth while it is likely to scoop up many of the 16 new casino licences.

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