Casino split puts Blues stadium future in doubt - Sunday 12th of June 2005
A crucial decision on whether to bid for permission to build a super-casino in Birmingham will be made by the city council tomorrow.
A positive outcome is vital to Birmingham City Football Club's hopes of securing a £220 million stadium at Saltley, which would involve a partnership with the Las Vegas Sands gambling group.
The new Blues stadium - supported by a petition signed by 10,000 fans handed to the council yesterday - can only get off the ground if the development is backed by the financial security offered by an adjoining casino.
But the club's chances of securing support could yet be dashed by unpredictable factors. n Councillors from the three political parties are objecting on religious and ethical grounds to a casino n There are plans for a rival casino at the National Exhibition Centre, which the council has a financial interest in n The Government has so far allotted only one super-casino throughout the country, at Blackpool, and is yet to make it clear whether it would be prepared to consider any further applications
The council's executive management team will meet tomorrow to decide what to do.
Ken Hardeman, Cabinet member for regeneration, accepted that the council would be in a difficult position if it had to choose between Saltley and the NEC as the best site for a casino.
Coun Hardeman (Con Brandwood) said: "I will be presenting a paper tomorrow and the first thing is to decide whether we want to support an option for a casino, not just the Birmingham City proposal but a decision in principle about whether Birmingham should have a casino.
"We need to decide politically, quickly, whether we are in support of a casino or not."
Coun Hardeman is a member of the NEC board but has taken no part in discussions about whether the group should bid for a casino. However, he conceded that the NEC was lobbying hard to win backing for its casino plan.
He said he was attracted to the regeneration possibilities offered by BCFC's proposal for a stadium on the 50-acre Birmingham Wheels Park in Saltley. The club would require 24 acres, leaving the rest to be redeveloped, bringing economic development and jobs to a deprived inner city area.
There would be major financial advantages to the council in backing the Blues bid, since it owns the land on which the stadium would be built and would receive a share of the club's profits.
Much of the land is badly contaminated, however, having been used as a landfill site in the past.
Coun Hardeman said: "The case for developing a sports village complex with all the opportunities that would bring about is something that is a very persuasive argument when it is stacked up against any other competitor.
"But at the moment we don't know how the Government intends to deal with the casino issue.
"When we know the rules of the game we will make a strong case for the best option."
Coun Hardeman admitted it was by no means certain that a majority of the 120 city councillors would back a casino bid, whether by the Blues or the NEC.
"There are a lot of doubters, people who on ethical or religious grounds will not support a casino. This is a debate that has got to be had," he added.
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