Hilton plans Blackpool 'super-casino'

Minister hints at concessions to rebel MPs over the gambling Bill, paving the way for Las Vegas-style centres
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The Independent Online

Hilton, the hotel-to-betting shop group, is drawing up plans to locate its first £200m "super casino" in Blackpool, provided that the Government caps the total number of casinos that can be built in Britain.

The Government yesterday flagged some concessions on the gambling Bill for the first time - but not on the controversial issue of super casinos. Tessa Jowell signalled a possible retreat on the Bill, which is expected to pave the way for Las Vegas-style casinos, in an attempt to avert a rebellion tonight by Labour MPs.

The Culture Secretary will tell MPs protesting against the casino plans that she is willing to listen to their protests and amend the Bill during its committee stage. "If proposals are made which I and the Government accept will improve this Bill, of course we will give them proper consideration," she told The Independent.

Hilton, which sold Ladbroke's casino division to Gala just three years ago, would join forces with a property developer to build its own super casino. "Our No 1 location would be a brownfield site in the Blackpool area," a group spokesman said. But he made it clear that the company's plans hinged on an assurance from the Government that it would limit the number of regional casinos. "We do believe there is scope for the development of a limited number of larger, entertainment-based casinos [but] we would not want to be party to the proliferation of many, many casinos," the spokesman said.

Hilton, which has been talking to Blackpool's council officials, is also waiting to hear how the Government plans to tax gaming profits before it commits to anything in Blackpool. Any casino will have to meet its targets for return on capital.

Many Labour MPs are urging Ms Jowell to abandon the plan to allow "super casinos". Ms Jowell said she was willing to consider changes to the detail, but showed no readiness to abandon that part of the Bill.

She said that she believed the regulation on gambling would lead to only some 20 new casinos being created rather than the 40 which was the upper end of the industry's estimates.

Ms Jowell revealed she had been planning to allow smaller casinos to be created but had rejected the idea at a late stage in the consultation, which has been going on for four years, because of the fears that it would create too many casinos.

Despite Ms Jowell's attempts to reassure her own backbenchers, she failed to deter Labour MPs threatening to vote against the legislation. Peter Kilfoyle, a former minister, said: "It is total cobblers. It is not Tessa Jowell who needs to listen. It is Downing Street that is behind this. And I don't forget that she said the opponents of this Bill were inspired by snobbery. That shows how divorced she is from the views of the ordinary members of the party."

The Government's majority will be slashed by Labour rebels, Tories and the Liberal Democrats who are threatening to oppose the Bill. That will undermine the Government's mandate for the Bill, and could make it virtually impossible to get it through the Lords intact before the general election.

Ms Jowell said local people would have a say over whether their councils approved casino proposals. "Local authorities will be able to veto casino development in their area if they don't want it," she said. "I will deal with the substance in my speech on the second reading of the Bill. The Tories have been supporters of this Bill right up until last month."