All bets are off for Solihull casino plans - Monday 4th of June 2007

Solihulls casino plans are under further threat after the Government insisted they could not go ahead until the issue of a "supercasino" is settled.

It means plans will remain in limbo until a battle between Manchester and Blackpool has been resolved.

The two northern cities are competing to build Britains first regional casino, with up to 1,250 unlimited-jackpot fruit machines.

The House of Lords has rejected the decision to build the regional casino in Manchester, but peers said they were happy for 16 smaller casinos, including planned venues in Solihull and Wolver-hampton, to go ahead.

But it has emerged that Government lawyers have ruled out separating the issue of the smaller casinos from the supercasino.

They warned that Ministers could face a court challenge if they tried to push through some of the planned casinos and not others.

Culture Minister Lord Davies of Oldham said: "The Government are in a difficult position because we could be subject to judicial review if we acted on part of the inspectors report and not on all of it."

The NEC Group, which hopes to build Solihulls casino, has urged the Government to put an end to the delays for the sake of the West Midlands economy.

Solihull and Wolverhamptons applications to build new gambling venues have been approved by the Casino Advisory Panel, an independent panel set up by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

The same panel decided that the regional casino should go to Manchester, even though Blackpool had widely been expected to win the licence.

The House of Lords rejected the findings and demanded a new inquiry to examine the regional casino decision.

So far the Government has appeared at a loss on how to respond.

In the House of Commons two weeks ago, Tony Blair said that he wanted to solve the problem by building two supercasinos.

The Prime Minister said: "I have never understood why Blackpool and Manchester should be pitted against each other. If the money is there and the investment is possible, let us have both."

But Mr Blair will leave Downing Street on June 27, and his successor, Gordon Brown, is unlikely to focus on a difficult and controversial issue such as casinos in his first weeks in office.

Reversing the Casino Advisory Panels decision and awarding the supercasino to Blackpool could lead to a massive and long-lasting political backlash in Manchester.

Solihull Council hopes to build a "large" casino at the NEC, although it will have to invite gaming companies to put forward their own proposals.

Wolverhampton is planning a "small" casino with up to 80 slot machines at the citys racetrack, although it will also have to consider alternative proposals.

The British Casino Association claims existing establishments are being treated with "blatant unfairness" because new casinos will be subject to fewer restrictions.

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