Celebrations as casino plans given a reprieve - Wednesday 25th of July 2007

OFFICIALS in Middlesbrough were celebrating last night after the Government said laws would be introduced to save the towns threatened casino scheme.

Culture Secretary James Purnell pledged legislation to rescue plans for 16 casinos, following the decision to pull the plug on the "supercasino" awarded to Manchester.

The 16 include a large casino with 150 slot machines and 4,000 jackpots planned for Middlesbrough, and a small casino with 80 slot machines planned in Scarborough.

Last week, Gordon Brown suggested the 16 licences could be separated from the row over the supercasino, but without saying how.

Mr Purnell, in a written statement to MPs, said there was consensus across all parties that the licences should go ahead, through new legislation.

First, the Culture Secretary will write to Middlesbrough, Scarborough and the other 14 councils affected to be certain they still wanted a casino.

He said that because the licences were awarded in January, political control of some councils had changed and that key councillors had changed responsibilities.

But a spokesman for Middlesbrough Council said nothing had changed, and added: "We believe that the casino will help plans to regenerate Middlesbrough.

"The bid was supported by the Middlesbrough Partnership, business organisations, the police and the University of Teesside. We have also developed facilities with the charity Gamcare and a code of conduct to ensure that the casino is run in a socially responsible way."

Middlesbroughs scheme is aimed at bringing at least 10m of investment and 300 jobs to the town.

Expected to open by spring 2010, and featuring restaurants, bars and a hotel, it is planned for the regenerated Middlehaven site, or Middlesbrough Leisure Park, in Marton Road.

Mr Purnell said: "There was a clear consensus across all parties that the eight large and eight small casinos should be awarded to the authorities identified by the casino advisory panel.

"I am sure that both Houses will wish to take account of a renewed commitment from the areas concerned when the time comes to consider this matter again."

All the casino schemes have been in limbo since a shock House of Lords vote, in March, which blocked an order passed by the House of Commons.

Last week, Mr Brown suggested there were better ways to regenerate struggling areas than a Las Vegas-style supercasino with unlimited jackpots.

All 17 locations were chosen by an independent panel, in an attempt to remove the political sting from the issue.

There was uproar when Manchester was selected for the supercasino, ahead of the favourite, Blackpool.

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