Casino could be on cards for town

A LAS Vegas-style casino could be on the cards for Ipswich as the town battles it out with Britain's gambling powerhouses to win the right to build a super-casino.

A LAS Vegas-style casino could be on the cards for Ipswich as the town battles it out with Britain's gambling powerhouses to win the right to build a super-casino.

The town is a surprise contender for Britain's first regional casino or one of 16 smaller casinos set to be approved by the government.

In a daring move by Ipswich Borough Council, the authority has put itself forward along with 26 other local authorities for the right to build the 5,000sq metre casino with 1,250 unlimited jackpot gaming machines.

The council today said it was realistic about its chances of beating established gambling havens like Blackpool and large cities like Manchester, Cardiff and Newcastle for the regional casino licence but it said it was more hopeful of winning the right to build one of eight “large casinos” or one of a further eight “small casinos”.

Simon Meecham, the council's economic development officer prepared its casino bid and he said: “There's going to be one super casino which I can't believe will go anywhere other than Blackpool or London.

“I should think they would find it hard to give us the one regional casino. It might well be that goes to a place that has experience of running casinos.

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“I put Ipswich's case forward as a medium-sized city that didn't have a casino at the moment but has a good reputation with its bingo halls and pubs and clubs and the right social economy to support it.”

The council has already received a number of approaches from developers keen to build casinos at the Waterfront, within the Ipswich Village zone around Ipswich Town Football Club and also within the town centre.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has said the large and small casinos should be in a range of locations including seaside resorts, edge of town developments and inner city centres.

Professor Stephen Crow, chairman of the Casino Advisory Panel which is assessing the proposals and will advise the government, said the process of drawing up a shortlist could take up to eight weeks.

He said: “Once we have completed this initial phase of evaluation, selected proposals will then go forward for further examination over the summer months.”

The plans have met stiff opposition from charities and support groups who claim it will lead to an increase in gambling addiction.

Major Bill Cochrane, of the Salvation Army, said: “The Salvation Army believes that wherever the first super-casino is built, it is likely to lead to a rise in problem gambling, which is far too high a price to pay for economic regeneration.”

While Ipswich pursues its own casino, Felixstowe has long been expecting a casino as part of the £3.2 million refurbishment of its cinema and bingo hall.

Owners of the complex have planning permission to add a hotel onto the centre in Crescent Road, as well as internal changes to create a larger entertainment area, conference facilities, bars, and a health and fitness suite, and have said a casino could form part of that depending on the new legislation.

However, only phase one of the revamp - external repairs and redecoration - have so far been completed, and no date has yet been announced for later phases of the work.

Weblink: Casino Advisory Panel: www.culture.gov.uk/cap; Ipswich Borough Council: www.ipswich.gov.uk

IF it won a licence to allow a large or small casino in the town, Ipswich Borough Council says it would conduct detailed research into the social and economic impacts of a casino and seek the views of the community before going ahead.

The authority believes there would be significant economic benefits drawn from opening a casino.

Simon Meecham, the authority's economic development officer, said: “I already know loads of developers who want to build them.

“We've got interest from American-based operators, London-based operators and European-based ones and they're all interested in different packages.

“We had firm drawings through for casinos in the Village and the Waterfront.

“Certainly there's no doubt they've been hawking about and looking at different sites and talking to agents.”

In the council's mind is the prospect of luring wealthy, and largely American and European, tourists arriving on cruises at Harwich.

“In the Harwich Gateway area we're proactively trying to get more cruises to come and stay here,” Mr Meecham said.

“A casino would also extend the evening economy so that people have something else to do.

“It would have the added advantage of the town not closing down at 10pm so you don't have to go home if you are over 25 and don't want to go to a club.”

THREE new types of casinos will be allowed to operate in Britain under the Gambling Act, which was recently passed by Parliament.

One regional casino will be permitted, along with eight large and eight small casinos.

It is expected that the regional casino will have a minimum total customer area of 5,000 m2, and be permitted up to 1,250 Category A unlimited jackpot gaming machines.

Large casinos will have a minimum total customer area of 1,500 m2, and be permitted up to 150 Category B gaming machines, with a maximum jackpot of £4,000.

Small casinos will have a minimum total customer area of 750m2, and be permitted up to 80 Category B gaming machines, with a maximum jackpot of £4,000.

The one regional and eight large casinos will be permitted to offer bingo, and all three categories will be permitted to offer betting.

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