Seaside resorts look for boom from Vegas-style casinos

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The Independent Online

The bucket and spade holiday enjoyed by millions of families in resorts from Blackpool to Brighton will never be the same again.

The bucket and spade holiday enjoyed by millions of families in resorts from Blackpool to Brighton will never be the same again.

Britain's seaside towns are preparing for an invasion of Las Vegas-style casinos with all the glitz and glamour of the Nevada gaming Mecca.

Yesterday Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, announced plans to deregulate Britain's arcane gaming laws. The changes are likely to lead to an explosion in so-called resort casinos, which the Government hopes will result in extra jobs and a tax windfall.

The Government's plans have already attracted the attention of America's biggest gaming groups, who have been busy setting up joint ventures with UK companies in anticipation of the new rules.

Leading Las Vegas operators such as MGM Mirage and Harrah's have started developing plans for casinos in Blackpool and Earls Court in London. The Millennium Dome has also been earmarked as a possible location.

Punters looking for some excitement will be able to walk off the street into cavernous gaming halls thanks to the scrapping of the current rules which require people to apply for casino membership 24 hours in advance.

These new venues will be packed full of green baize gaming tables and huge numbers of slot machines paying out millions of pounds in prizes, a small fraction of their takings.

One of the biggest changes announced by the Government is the liberalisation of one- armed bandits. The biggest casino operators will be able to install as many of the slot machines as they like.

The machines will also be linked together at certain times so that players have the chance of winning unlimited jackpot prizes. "We are talking about casinos, hotels, shopping and live entertainment," said Marc Etches, managing director of Leisure Parks, the company that owns Blackpool Tower and is one of the leading campaigners for deregulation.

The new resort casinos will use all the marketing pizazz of Las Vegas to encourage punters stay in cheap but well-appointed hotel rooms.

Cabaret stars of the calibre of Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones will provide live entertainment. The casinos will also hope to present comedians such as Peter Kay. Mr Etches has been working closely with Blackpool Borough Council on the redevelopment of the Lancashire resort.

"We are already planning a 1,000 bedroom hotel with a casino themed as a Pharaoh's palace," Mr Etches said. "The master plan envisages four resort casinos in Blackpool, although we think the resort has the capacity for six."