Prescott's friend leads race for first super casino

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Indy Politics

The Millennium Dome has emerged as the official front-runner to house Britain's first super-casino.

The announcement will raise fresh questions over John Prescott's links with Philip Anschutz, the billionaire developer of the Greenwich site.

Mr Anschutz hopes to open a gambling complex at the Dome, which is seen as critical to its successful development as a concert arena. He received a boost yesterday as the Government's Casino Advisory Panel said the Dome was its initial favourite to host the super-casino.

Proposed venues were judged on eight criteria, including community benefits and social impact, each with a maximum possible mark of 10.

The Dome came top of the super-casino shortlist, with 67 points, followed by venues in Glasgow, with 66, Blackpool, with 65, and Sheffield, with 62. Brent and Newcastle were both awarded 58 points, followed by Cardiff and Manchester, both with 57.

The panel, which includes senior planners and business leaders, will make its final recommendation to the Government by the end of the year following a further round of judging.

Mr Prescott has strongly denied coming under any undue influence from Mr Anschutz and said he was not directly involved in decisions over the Dome's future.

But Hugo Swire, the shadow Culture Secretary, said the "close relationship" between the two men had compromised the bidding process. He said: "Greenwich is in the position where, if it is successful, its competitors will cry foul because of the unprecedented access to the Government enjoyed by the Dome's owners. "As a result, the Government risks being mired in legal challenges for years to come."

In May, the panel announced eight possible super casino venues from a list of 27 original entrants. But it announced it was prepared to examine fresh submissions from the councils left off the shortlist.

The panel also announced a shortlist of 31 proposed venues for large and small casinos from a list of 40 proposals from local authorities.