Blackpool? Site of UK’s first super-casino - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

Blackpool remains the favourite location for Britain’s first Las Vegas-style casino, according to the man who led the town’s £1 billion initiative to become the UK’s premier gambling and show business resort.

Speaking to The Stage, former managing director of Leisure Park's Marc Etches said that the town’s focus on regeneration and its reputation as an entertainment destination would secure the support of ministers from the three main parties.

In addition, he claimed that if Parliament’s location advisory panel was appointed in the autumn, a decision could be reached within the next 12 months - well ahead of the government’s prediction of announcing its choice by the end of 2006.

He said: “I think Blackpool sits in the most favourable position because the government has explicitly talked about placing the first regional casino in a leisure destination. What is motivating the government is regeneration and allowing live entertainment to prosper and they will want to do that as quickly as possible. The north west is a long way ahead of other areas in its focus on bringing regeneration benefits across the whole region.

“One site is much easier to identify than eight, especially if one choice is supported across the region and the rest of the UK. I don’t think we will have to wait as long as some people might think for a final decision. From the start Blackpool has received all-party support and, even at the final debate in the House of Lords, both the Conservative and Liberal Democrats spoke up for it.?

Etches was appointed managing director of Leisure Parks by founder Trevor Hemmings in 1998 to realise the company’s vision of using resort casinos as a catalyst for Blackpool’s renaissance as a thriving tourist destination. Last year Blackpool Borough Council officially revealed its master plan for the town, which was based on Etches’ original model and features a live entertainment complex and five resort-style casino hotels.

The proposal, which could take up to 15 years to fully realise, has the potential to deliver 30,000 new jobs and £437 million of new income each year to Blackpool - with almost half the new jobs a direct result of the resort casinos. Meanwhile, independent research shows that the five resort casinos would create an estimated 14,500 jobs and would attract around 15 million visitors to the region a year.

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell was forced to reduce the number of proposed super-casino sites from eight in order to prevent the gaming legislation being halted by the dissolution of Parliament. However, the DCMS has hinted that several more sites would be allowed if the government decided that more operations in varied locations would help assess the bill’s impact on the public.

If Blackpool was selected as the location for the prototype super-casino the chances of this master plan going ahead would be greatly increased. At present the town’s major competitors will come from London’s Millennium Dome site in Greenwich and other city centre rivals such as Glasgow and Manchester, although the town’s unique relationship with the entertainment industry is expected to give it a considerable advantage.

Speaking in the House of Lords, Conservative minister Lord Blaker, said: “Blackpool knows the entertainment industry inside out. It grew up with the entertainment industry and … we all know of the Blackpool Tower and the Tower Ballroom. [It] is doing much to remedy the tourism deficit that we suffer as a country. I believe that a casino in Blackpool will help the town to strengthen that role. I conclude by saying that I believe Blackpool has all the qualities necessary to make a success of the first casino.

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