Businessman behind Dome casino plan is killed in helicopter crash

Helen McCormack
Friday 13 October 2006 00:39
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One of the tycoons behind the plan to turn the Millennium Dome into a "supercasino" died in a helicopter crash yesterday.

Howard Kerzner was killed along with three others when the aircraft crashed into a building in a tourist resort on the Dominican Republic. He was 42 years old. Mr Kerzner, who had the nickname "Butch", had been surveying potential development sites on the Caribbean island's north coast when the helicopter crashed on the roof of a building in Sousa, airport officials said.

He was the chief executive officer of the gambling giant Kerzner International, which had joined forces with the US billionaire Philip Anschutz to develop Britain's first supercasino at the site of the Dome, in Greenwich, south-east London.

His father, Sol Kerzner, 71, who made his fortune running the controversial gambling resort "Sun City" resort in South Africa under the Apartheid regime, was last night flying to the island.

The helicopter, a Robinson 44, had plunged into the roof of a plant nursery. The three others killed were two officers in the Dominican armed forces and the son of a US property developer. An investigation was launched yesterday into what caused the helicopter to crash.

Mr Kerzner's firm had been working with Mr Anschutz's company, Anschutz Entertainment Group, on a bid to develop the casino at the Dome, which the billionaire bought in 2002.

Mr Anschutz hit the headlines earlier this year when it emerged that the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, had been a guest at his ranch in Colorado, America, and had accepted gifts from him. Mr Prescott, who failed to declare the stay in the House of Commons' Register of Members' Interests, was later criticised by a government inquiry. It concluded he had opened himself to charges of impropriety by visiting Mr Anschutz at a time when he was bidding to develop casino at the Dome site.

Kerzner International had been brought in by AEG to operate the gambling complex at the Dome, which, if it gets the go-ahead, will be the site of Britain's first supercasino. But the government has only given the go-ahead for one casino to be developed, and the men were in competition with six other sites across the country. A decision over whether the Dome has won is due by the end of the year.

Mr Kerzner, who was born and grew up in South Africa, is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and two young children. His company said: "It is with great sadness that the entire company mourns the tragic loss of Butch Kerzner."

His family said in a statement that no memorial service would be held for Mr Kerzner, accordance with his wishes, and that they were setting up a memorial fund to aid state schools in the Bahamas, where his company is based. As well as owning the majority of the Bahamas' vast casino resort, Paradise Island, Kerzner International has stakes in five resorts in Mauritius, one in Mexico and manages a resort in Dubai. Along with the Dome project the company was also making a bid to build a casino resort in Singapore.

A company spokesman said: "Our only comfort is the certain knowledge we have that Butch's work in the Bahamas will continue on pace and that his vision for Atlantis and for Bahamian tourism will be brought to fruition."

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