Trocadero, the casino royale?

Britain's largest gambling venue proposed for West End, reports Abigail Townsend
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The Independent Online

The Trocadero in London's Piccadilly Circus is being earmarked as the home for the UK's largest casino.

The Trocadero in London's Piccadilly Circus is being earmarked as the home for the UK's largest casino.

Property developer Burford, which owns the West End entertainment centre, is in talks with London Clubs International about the proposal. London Clubs runs the Trocadero's existing casino, the Golden Nugget, but its lease is coming up for renewal.

The two parties see it as an opportunity to dramatically expand the Golden Nugget to between 65,000 and 70,000 sq ft. Currently, the UK's largest casino by some distance, Star City in Birmingham, has a gaming floor of just 21,000 sq ft.

A source close to the negotiations confirmed the talks were ongoing but said neither party was ready to submit a renewed application to Westminster Council. However, the insider added: "I think Westminster would welcome it because it will be good for the West End."

It is understood the extra space needed would be gained by expansion into the area currently occupied by the UGC cinema, which is reportedly keen to quit the site.

The Gambling Bill, which is being studied by a government joint scrutiny committee, will radically overhaul the UK's gambling and gaming laws, many of which are centuries old.

The Bill is not expected to become law until 2005 at the very earliest, and could feasibly be delayed further as the House of Lords and MPs discuss the finer points of the legislation. But operators are already positioning themselves to take advantage of the shake-up.

London Clubs owns five casinos in the capital, including the The Sportsman and Les Ambassadeurs Club. Earlier this month, it launched a £49m underwritten rights issue and refinanced £181m of debt.

At the time, chairman Michael Beckett said the fundraising left London Clubs "well positioned to enhance its existing portfolio of casinos and to exploit the opportunity that deregulation affords".

Should the deal to expand the Golden Nugget be finalised - and be approved by the local authorities - it will mark something of a resurgence for the company. Only a few years ago it faced collapse after a disastrous foray into Las Vegas.

Casinos the size of the proposed expanded Golden Nugget could soon become the norm. Besides the introduction of the Gambling Bill, US operators - who specialise in vast gaming centres - are keen to move in.

Last year Isle of Capri Casinos became the first American operator to be approved by the UK Gaming Board when it acquired a majority interest in Blue Chip Casinos. The group said it saw the UK as the "cornerstone" of its international expansion.