Gambling chief at a loss over casino - Tuesday 15th of May 2007

THE minister in charge of gambling has admitted the government has `not got a position on how to take forward Manchesters supercasino bid.

Richard Caborn told the M.E.N. his department was still considering its next steps after the House of Lords blocked the plan, which would have brought 3,000 jobs to a deprived part of east Manchester near SportCity.

"We have not got a position on it at present," he said. "We want the 17 casinos determined by the Casino Advisory Panel (CAP).

"The Lords decided not to accept the recommendations and we are still considering what the next step will be."

Senior sources behind the Manchester bid played down the significance of Mr Caborns frank words, claiming it was more significant that both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had pledged to revive the plans.

And briefings from Westminister suggested Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell - Mr Caborns boss - was looking to find a way of siting supercasinos in both Manchester and main rival Blackpool.

The CAP, an independent body of experts appointed by Parliament, made the shock decision to recommend Manchester as the site of Britains first supercasino in January.

That was put to both Houses of Parliament in March as part of a package that also included 16 smaller casinos nationwide.

The Commons agreed - but the Lords voted the move down by just three votes.

Ms Jowell has insisted publicly that the plans for Manchester remain `very much alive, and Mr Blair pledged to `find a way of putting it right. But Mr Caborn, asked if the Lords could be allowed to overrule the elected Commons, said: "They can, and they have done it. There was an agreement it had to go through both Houses.

"This is not just about the supercasinos but the whole question of gambling. There are people who would vote against any new gambling, and they have very genuinely held points of view. We just have to go back and see what we can do."

Asked if he thought Manchester would eventually get Britains first supercasino, he added: "I have not got a guess, honestly."

Fears have been raised in Westminister that the Manchester bid could be in jeopardy if the row is allowed to rumble on beyond Mr Blairs departure as Prime Minister on June 27.

Mr Brown, his likely replacement, is believed to be less keen on extending gambling and casinos across Britain.

But the Chancellor gave Manchester cause for comfort last month when he said of the SportCity bid: "I voted for it and I want to see it go through."

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