Casino bosses attempt to jump the gun - Sunday 12th of June 2005

UK casino firms are rolling out plans to build up to 100 new casinos. Gambling bosses are trying to take advantage of a loophole which could result in a huge number of gambling dens opening on Britain's high streets before the new Gambling Act comes into force.

Gambling bosses have told The Observer that they want to build so-called 'old-style casinos' with just eight slot machines and £500 jackpots while they wait for new legislation to come into force. Up to 100 licences have been lodged with the Gaming Board in recent weeks while the casino industry waits to compete for 17 new licences which will allow casinos to increase floor sizes, slot machines and jackpot prizes. Rank Group insiders say it has moved to apply for close to 10 new casinos. It is understood that rivals Gala and London Clubs International have also made dramatically increased plans for new town- centre gambling dens.

The move will infuriate church groups and those concerned at casino proliferation. In the past two years the number of casinos has climbed by 20 to 141. While not all the licence applications will be granted, gambling bosses are confident that they will increase the number of clubs they own. The move comes as the City is increasingly betting that Stanley Leisure will tie up with rival London Clubs International to create the UK's biggest casino firm.

Meanwhile, the government is still unsure whether to risk backbench and media opposition and increase the number of super-casinos from one to four. There is speculation that Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell will argue that, under European law, it will be illegal to have just one supercasino, which is expected to be in Blackpool. This will allow for a supercasino in London - either at the Millennium Dome or in what could be a giant complex on land next to Wembley Stadium to be developed by Caesars Entertainment and property firm Quintain.

observer.guardian.co.uk

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