Gala plans Vegas-style British casinos with US partner

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The Independent Online

The gaming group Gala plans to bring some Las Vegas glitz to Britain with a plan to open eight American-style casinos in the UK as part of a £600m joint venture with Harrah's Entertainment of the United States.

The plans are conditional on the deregulation of Britain's archaic gambling laws, which currently limit where casinos can be located and set ceilings on the number of slot machines that can be included. The shake-up has been delayed, and the measures are now unlikely to feature in the Queen's speech in November.

Assuming deregulation goes ahead, the new venues would be twice the size of the largest casinos currently operating in Britain and be located alongside motorway networks on the edge of large cities.

They would carry the Gala name but incorporate many of the features that are standard in the US. These would include a range of restaurants from gourmet fare to fast food, hotels, large car-parks and "thousands" of slot machines. The deal would be structured as a 50-50 joint venture.

The two companies have not named the venues for competitive reasons but say they have been working on the idea for a year. However, Gala has already confirmed that it would be interested in developing Earls Court in London as a Las Vegas-style casino.

The eight sites would create 8,000 jobs and be up and running within three to four years of deregulation.

The deal represents a further coup for John Kelly, Gala's chief executive, who netted millions in February when Gala was sold to venture capital groups Candover and Cinven for £1.2bn.

Yesterday Mr Kelly said: "We intend to be first into this market and be very aggressive ... our view is that deregulation is inevitable. It's just a matter of timing."

Gala said it would continue to open standard-sized community casinos independently. It is the UK's biggest bingo club operator with 166 clubs, and it also has 28 casinos.