CITY POISED TO ALLOW THE FIRST CASINOS FOR 20 YEARS - Sunday 12th of June 2005

Aberdeen's first new casino licences in two decades could be granted next week. The separate applications would see Grosvenor Casinos moving in alongside Mecca Bingo in the Berryden shopping park, while Granite Rock wants a licence for Langstane Kirk in Union Street.

The applications have been criticised by the managing director of a rival casino.George Stewart, of the International Casino, Queens Road, said he was not anti-competitive, but raised concerns about the potential impact of rushing the licences through before new gambling laws come into force.

He said the Government's gambling bill would require local authorities to apply to a new panel before inviting suitable parties to tender in competition with each other.Tenders could include finance for local projects such as landscaping, pedestrianisation or drug and gambling rehabilitation centres.But Mr Stewart believes the city council could be missing out on such projects by granting the two licences next week before the gambling laws come into force.He said: "In years to come, Aberdeen citizens may count the cost with increases in gambling problems due to the high level of competition, which could result in cut-price alcohol until six in the morning."Members of the community could be left to count the cost of losing out on civic amenities and watching other cities benefit because they were prudent enough not to issue any last-minute licences before the new act was in force."

Mr Stewart also said that casino licences in the UK could be sold on for a minimum of £1million, and that this could encourage owners to give them up for a quick profit.Stuart Clarkson, director of Granite Rock Casinos, said there was no question that the application for Langstane Kirk was being rushed through.He said planning permission for what would be known as Soul Casino, on the upper floor of the former church, was granted three years ago and that the application had been before gaming-board officials for almost two years.He added: "I am a great believer that competition supplies the public with a better service and a choice, and that's all we are trying to do - give the public a choice."No one at Grosvenor Casinos was available for comment.The licensing board will consider the applications on Tuesday. Chairman Ron Clark said: "I think the new legislation applies to current licences anyway. I think it will cover the whole gambit. I don't think there is any advantage to having them through now as opposed to when the new legislation comes in."

Mr Clark said the new laws had still to be finalised and that even though it was likely to start coming into force next year, this would happen in stages. Langstane councillor Steve Delaney was surprised the application for Langstane Kirk had not come up sooner as planning consent for a casino had been in place for some time. He said his only concern was the amount of parking space.The International Casino received planning permission in February to shift its operation to a B-listed former post office and labour exchange in Market Street, but has yet to move. The city's only other existing casino is Gala, in Summer Street.

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