Worth the risk? UK goes for broke with supercasinos

A high-stakes expansion is set to sweep the nation. Jonathan Brown reports

An unprecedented expansion in Britain's casino industry is under way, with plans to create a new generation of gambling venues larger than anything seen in this country before. It is estimated that casinos in a dozen towns and cities could generate up to £250m a year in winnings for operators and potentially pave the way for the return of controversial Las Vegas-style super casino complexes, an idea ditched by Gordon Brown in one of his first acts as Prime Minister.

Click here to see 'Place your bets: casinos coming your way' graphic

Church groups are urging caution over any further rapid growth in Britain's casino base, fearing it could swell the number of problem gamblers and hit poor families. The addiction charity GamCare said that the growing number of gambling outlets underlined the urgent need for education over the risks associated with gaming.

Leighton Vaughan Williams, the director of the Betting Research Unit at Nottingham Business School and an adviser to the government, said the new casinos were always intended as a testbed for future expansion. "We have waited a long time. It has been years since these were chosen and people were starting to forget they had ever been given the go-ahead," he said. "This could be the beginning of something very big. Without this the casino industry would be stuck where it is now."

The new venues are expected to swell the gross win estimate – the amount lost by punters to the house – by 30 per cent, pushing the figure above £1bn a year for the first time.

In December last year the first of eight so-called large casinos created under the 2005 Gambling Act opened its doors, close to the Olympic Park at Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London. Next month councillors in Solihul in the West Midlands are expected to give the green light to a £120m gambling complex at the National Exhibition Centre.

Similar schemes are also well under way in Hull, Middlesbrough, Great Yarmouth, Southampton and Milton Keynes, with decisions due in the coming months. Last week Leeds invited applications from operators seeking a licence there.

Large casinos will be able to offer 30 gaming tables for punters to play blackjack and poker as well as 150 fruit machines paying out a maximum jackpot of £4,000.

Another five authorities – Bath and North East Somerset, Luton, Swansea, Wolverhampton and Scarborough – are planning to exercise their right to host "small" casinos. Despite their name these will be bigger than any of the 145 casinos now operating, with the exception of Stratford. They will offer 40 gaming tables and 80 fruit machines paying out top prizes of £4,000.

Some local authorities such as Southampton and Hull see the casinos as central to ambitious regeneration plans. Others see them as a ready source of revenue to promote run-down areas.

Aspers, which runs the casino in Stratford, has agreed to pay Newham Council a minimum of £1m a year from its revenues as well as creating 440 jobs.

But the gaming industry ultimately wants to see restrictions relaxed to allow the market to dictate the number of fruit machines and tables at each venue.

A spokesman for GamCare said there was little evidence to suggest the expansion would lead to more problem gamblers – currently estimated at 0.9 per cent of the population. He said: "Casinos in Britain are well regulated and we will be encouraging and helping any new casino to ensure all staff are expertly trained to spot someone who is potentially in trouble and quickly signpost them to our national helpline and counselling services."

The former Labour government carried out a dramatic about-face over casino expansion. At the height of his ambitions for the industry Tony Blair was said to support the creation of 30 super casinos, each with 1,250 slot machines and unlimited jackpots linked to huge hotel complexes, as well as 100 large and 50 small venues.

But Labour bowed to pressure from backbenchers and church groups and scaled back the plan to just one regional casino which was unexpectedly awarded to Manchester over Blackpool and the Millennium Dome.

Church groups including the Salvation Army and the Quakers have recently stepped up their campaign urging the Government to introduce a compulsory levy on the betting industry to fund research, education and treatment for problem gambling.

Daniel Webster from the Evangelical Alliance said it was important there should be no further liberalisation of the gambling laws until the full impact of the 2005 Act was understood. "We are really concerned that a culture is being created where gambling and losing money is seen as normal," he said.

James North, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church in Britain, said: "The figures speak for themselves: problem gambling is on the rise. But the government seems determined to liberalise gambling laws. It is vital that the government understands the challenge posed by this worrying increase in harmful gambling and takes action to reverse it."


It takes a few moments for the eyes and brain to adjust from the light of a late-January afternoon to the flashing lights of 150 slot machines in Aspers casino in the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre, east London. Once they have, the most striking thing about the UK's largest gambling house is that it really isn't that big. Moreover, it doesn't appear to be inhabited by desperate-looking people, pouring the remainder of their souls into a flashing machine which will only ever let them win enough to keep them coming back. Perhaps mercifully for the early afternoon, it doesn't seem to be inhabited by that many people at all.

Syed Naeem Kazmiu, 18, said he had been told by staff that he is one of the youngest they see at the casino. "I have probably dropped around £2,500 in the last two weeks," he said. But, he added, "I play for the fun. I put down money when I can afford it and, when I can't, I don't."

Poppy Smith, 35, from Los Angeles, said: "At home, large casinos bring the surrounding areas down but I don't know if it would be the same here. It is not just about the size of the room, though." Another customer said: "It is probably better to have larger casinos, further apart, than lots in small towns. That way, fewer people have them on their doorsteps and will just fall into them."


Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower