American developer suffers setback in super-casino battle

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The Independent Online

The American developer bidding for the rights to run Britain's first "super-casino" suffered a significant rebuff yesterday when his company was warned that its decision to begin construction work at the Millennium Dome before obtaining a proper licence could count against it.

Professor Stephen Crow, chairman of the Casino Advisory Panel (CAP), made his comment after it emerged that Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) had begun to build the shell of its proposed casino. Speaking beforea public examination of seven bids from around the country, he said the construction work had been interpreted as a positive indication of which way the panel was leaning.

But Professor Crow said yesterday: "I would like to say something about the silly story that is going around - the silly story is that I have somehow commended the developers of the Dome for starting before they have got any sort of approval. What I have said is that I shall take that into account. I shall tell you shortly after Christmas whether I have taken that into account favourably or unfavourably. And how much weight I shall attach to it."

This week AEG was forced to apologise after Malcolm Torry, chairman of the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy, complained that the views of the various faith groups in the community had been misrepresented in a document submitted by the company.

Yesterday, Mr Torry told the CAP that AEG had published a document on the CAP's website which gave the wrong impression that faith groups in Greenwich were "in favour of the application". He said this was not the case and that the company had "immediately apologised" and corrected the mistake. He told Professor Crow: "It was resolved two days ago but not as far as the press were concerned."

Professor Crow also sought to distance himself from reports that the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, had been involved in the bidding process.

The Millennium Dome bid has been mired in controversy in recent months after Mr Prescott was found to have stayed at the ranch of Philip Anschutz, the owner of AEG, which bought the Millennium Dome in 2002. Mr Prescott has insisted that he has not been involved in the casino application process and that AEG has received no preferential treatment. Professor Crow told the hearing: "What role is John Prescott playing in our process, I hear you asking. None."

He said its members were free of political and commercial interference. "Is Greenwich a done deal for the regional casino? The answer to that question is no," he told the hearing in London.

Professor Crow was speaking at the opening of an Examination-in-Public into the merits of the bid for a super-casino at the Millennium Dome in south-east London. Further such hearings will be held around the country over the next fortnight in six other shortlisted venues including Manchester and Blackpool.

The hearing continues today.