Church leaders call for casino talks

WORRIED church leaders say a new casino should not be allowed to open opposite a centre counselling kids for gambling addiction – and called for a meeting over the development.

By Richard Cornwell

By RICHARD CORNWELL Felixstowe editor

WORRIED church leaders say a new casino should not be allowed to open opposite a centre counselling children for gambling addiction – and called for a meeting over the development.

Ministers and their congregations in Felixstowe are deeply concerned about a number of issues over the casino project and have written letters to the council urging it to reject the scheme.

Now they are hoping to meet Patrick Duffy – managing director of the company behind the £3.2 million project – to discuss their fears.

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Rev Paul Beetham, minister of Trinity Methodist Church and a trustee of the Level2 youth project, said: "I think we would all be interested in a meeting with the people behind this casino.

"The public needs more information about what is planned because there are many who are concerned about the possibility of a casino opening in Felixstowe.

"I think there is a big difference between the bingo hall we have already got and a casino – people usually do not spend a lot of money on bingo, while in casinos people often risk a lot more, perhaps everything, to try to gain a fortune.

"People who play bingo do it for fun and the amount they spent is controlled and you are not likely to lose your house."

Mr Beetham said it was disappointing the casino would be opposite Level2 in Hamilton Road, where among the many advice and support services for youngsters include counselling on gambling addiction.

"It just does not seem right to have a casino opposite the biggest youth centre in the area. One youngster at Level2 said to me that it was so wonderful to have a new facility for young people in Felixstowe which is not an arcade," he said.

The Methodist Church has written to Suffolk Coastal protesting at the casino plan, as have several members of the congregation.

Salvation Army commanding officer Major Goff Payne has also written. "I am not convinced that the extension of the existing gambling facility is the kind of place the town needs – especially in the town centre," he said.

"There are already issues surrounding addictive past-times within the town – drink and drugs, to name two – and to add gambling on a larger scale would be extremely detrimental."

Palatial Leisure wants to transform the cinema and bingo complex into a "mini resort" featuring a single-screen cinema, conference centre, bingo hall and casino, restaurant, gym and 57-bedroom hotel.

Mr Duffy said the complex would not entice youngsters into gambling and no-one under 18 would be allowed in. Its clientele would be the opposite to what many people envisage.

It would be "members only" and the company has strict rules on standards of behaviour which forbid bad language.

Mr Duffy added that the complex would bring people to the town and provide an economic boost.

"We do not entice people into our bingo and we would never allow children in. The last people we want to attract are youngsters – they are just not in our plans," he said.

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