United aim to hit jackpot with touch of Las Vegas - Thursday 12th of May 2005

Ambitious plans are being considered to strengthen club's financial position MANCHESTER United did not become the richest club in world football by gambling all on red or black, but, in the face of declining profits and the threat posed by the nouveau riche of Chelsea, they hope to strengthen their hand by building a Las Vegas-style casino complex next to Old Trafford.

After almost two years of planning, United are to apply to the Government for one of the licences that will become available under new gambling legislation. The seaside resort of Blackpool is expected to be at the front of the queue when the first licence is handed out, but United believe that they have a strong bid after unveiling their plans — in conjunction with Las Vegas Sands, owner of the Venetian casino hotel in Las Vegas — for a complex including a five-star hotel, restaurants and a health club, which they believe would be the “largest cultural village outside Central London?.

“The club are delighted to be part of this project,? Andy Anson, the United commercial director, said. “If selected, it will provide first-class entertainment and accommodation on one of the most famous sporting sites in the world and create jobs and generate income for the local economy. “There is a lot of work to be done and any plans will of course consider the social issues associated with gambling. We will take expert advice on putting an agreed plan in place to deal with those matters comprehensively.?

If accepted, the latest plans, which have the backing of Trafford Borough Council, promise to strengthen the club’s financial position. United have been exploring ways of increasing their revenue streams, with football-related profits having declined over the past 12 months because of a relative lack of success on the pitch, and are committed to the expansion of Old Trafford, with the two open corners of the stadium being filled in to increase capacity from 67,900 to 75,000. United, meanwhile, have provisionally invited Celtic to play in a testimonial match for Roy Keane at Old Trafford on August 3.

It has not yet been confirmed that Keane has agreed to have a testimonial season, 12 years after joining the club from Nottingham Forest, but it is understood that Celtic have been invited, subject to their winning the Bank of Scotland Premierleague title and progressing, with United, to the third qualifying round of the Champions League, the first legs of which are scheduled for August 9 and 10. John Obi Mikel, the young Nigerian midfield player, said yesterday that he has received threats since turning down a move to Chelsea to sign for United. The 18-year-old will move to Old Trafford from FC Lyn Oslo in January, provided that he has met the criteria to earn a work permit. His decision has caused consternation not only at Chelsea, who believed that they were in pole position to sign him after a successful trial, but also, it seems, for agents and others who stood to benefit if he had moved to Stamford Bridge.

“I have received messages and phone calls with threats from both Nigeria and England and I feel afraid,? Mikel said. “But I will join United in January. It is a dream come true for me. The club officials have assured me they will sort that [the work permit] out when the time comes.? United are also reported to be targeting Maniche, the FC Porto midfield player, who was described by José Mourinho, his former manager, as the best player in Euro 2004. But Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, will face stiff competition for the Portugal playmaker’s services from Dynamo Moscow and their wealthy owner, Alexei Fedorychev Fedorychev has pumped more than £100 million into Dynamo since taking over last year and has said that he is ready to part with an eight-figure sum to sign Maniche and Costinha, his Porto and Portugal team-mate.

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