Abigail Townsend: The Dome does not deserve the super casino

Whatever John Prescott thinks, the licence should go to Blackpool
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Not a single new casino has been built. Yet barely a week goes by without a fresh angle emerging, or another scandal, or disappointment. And so it was last week.

First there were accusations that the owner of the Millennium Dome, Anschutz Entertainment Group, had incorrectly represented the views of faith groups in the local Greenwich community. And then Stephen Crow, the chairman of the Casino Advisory Panel, angrily rebuffed suggestions he would bow to John Prescott's wishes and award the one super casino licence to the Dome.

What I find extraordinary, though, is how the debate has shifted. At first it was all brimstone and fire, with predictions of how this green and pleasant land was going to be turned into the new Las Vegas.

Now it's about politics, and whether or not the Dome is gaining favourable status through its association with Mr Prescott (a contradiction in terms, but there you have it).

At the start of all this, no one thought the Dome would get the super casino licence. Yet now it is being seriously considered, with all of us reminded of its existence every time a new story crops up. Funny that.

But it is a dangerous route for anyone to be going down, and I do hope Mr Crow knows this and sticks to his guns.

Because London must not get the super casino, no matter how much any politician would love to boast, "I sorted out the Dome". The capital is, by and large, a wealthy area. It already has a host of glittering leisure venues - including, I might add, a number of casinos. And it has the 2012 Olympics, which means some of the poorest areas will be redeveloped and regenerated.

The licence will be awarded based on a number of factors, and regeneration - both economic and social - is the key. London, then, should not even be considered, so bad luck to AEG and the Dome.

And if AEG wants to blame someone, it should look to the Government. It was cowed into having only one super casino, meaning the spoils will not be spread across the country. Only one region will get it; all others will be losers.

The winner must be Blackpool, a seaside resort shorn of visitors. It is crying out for the casino; without it, the Lancashire town could go under.

So let's give it to Blackpool and see what happens. Let's see if super casinos really can be "destination" leisure venues - places to which we take the family, not just to gamble but for the restaurants, shows and so on.

And if it works, that's great news for the Dome. Because if one super casino doesn't morally corrupt us, it will pave the way for more. And then the Dome will be worth considering. But not before then, no matter what Mr Prescott thinks.

This break-up won't fly

To break up BAA or not to break up BAA? The airlines - and no doubt most people stuck this weekend in a security queue - say yes. The airport owner, not at all surprisingly, says no.

On one level, it's simple: BAA is a monopoly. And having decided that monopolies stymie competition, which is bad news for consumers, regulators every- where don't like them any more. And when monopolies cause problems, the competition authorities break them up.

But nothing is quite so simple when the Government is involved. For a start, the aviation industry does not operate in an otherwise free and open market - just ask all those airlines that would love to merge with rivals, or fly transatlantic out of Heathrow, but can't. Second, this is also an industry in which the Government has a vested interest. It controls transport policy and intends to keep it that way. Rival operators pitching their airports against each other sounds dangerously like a free for all.

So the case for breaking up BAA may be simple. It may even be right. Just don't expect anything so contrary to the Government's interests to happen.

a.townsend@independent.co.uk

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