Casino public hearings underway


The first in a series of public hearings to determine where Britain's first supercasino will be sited has today begun.

Members of the independent Casino Advisory Panel will recommend to the government where the Las Vegas-style casino should be built after consulting the public over the merits of seven venues that have been shortlisted for the project.

Public scrutiny of the seven casino bids has started in London, where a proposal by US entertainment mogul Philip Anschutz to open the first supercasino at the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, will be considered.

The bid by the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) has already attracted controversy following a parliamentary inquiry which concluded that deputy prime minister John Prescott had broken House of Commons' rules by failing to register a stay at Mr Anschutz's American ranch.

Speaking at the Millennium Dome this morning, the panel's chairman, Professor Stephen Crow, insisted that the public hearings would not represent an "inquisition", but did admit that AEG could expect "a grilling".

Professor Crow pledged to take all aspects of each individual bid into account, explaining that contrary to reports, Greenwich was "not a done deal as a location for the supercasino".

The chairman also revealed that Mr Prescott would have "no part" in the panel's eventual selection, emphasising that the ultimate decision belonged to culture secretary Tessa Jowell.

Further questions were raised about the Millennium Dome bid earlier this month after it emerged that the company had already begun constructing the shell of its proposed casino despite a final decision not having yet been made over the awarding of the country's first supercasino licence.

AEG was also forced to apologise yesterday after it produced a document wrongly claiming that local faith groups supported the casino plan.

Opposition parties have subsequently criticised the process for assessing the casino bids.

"Admissions that the concerns of faith groups and local residents were misrepresented in evidence seriously undermines the Casino Advisory Panel and leads to questions about the rigour and scrutiny to which they have examined the competing bids," said shadow culture secretary Hugo Swire.

Liberal Democrat culture spokesman Don Foster added that there were "huge questions about the whole process".

The government has stressed that parliament will ultimately be responsible for deciding where the first supercasino is located.

Following today's first Examination-in-Public (EiP) hearing in London, the Casino Advisory Panel will travel to Cardiff, Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester and Blackpool to assess rival casino bids over the next two weeks.

During the round table discussions, a range of interested groups, including local authorities, religious groups, police and anti-gambling campaigners, will be able to voice their opinions about the desirability of building Britain's first supercasino in each location.

The government had originally envisaged opening a number of supercasinos across the country in order to boost employment and regeneration, but was forced to revise its plans in the wake of criticisms made by anti-addiction charities and others.

Only one supercasino will initially be allowed to operate in the UK, under the terms of the Gambling Act 2005.

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