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Brown U-turn over plan for supercasino 12/07/2007
Tania Branigan and Patrick Wintour

Gordon Brown yesterday tore up Blairite plans for a supercasino based in Manchester, breaking with his predecessor and reasserting Labour's moral stance in the face of the Conservative focus on family values and the "broken society".

The prime minister chose to overshadow his own presentation of the legislative programme by telling parliament that regeneration might be "a better way of meeting [the] economic and social needs" of deprived areas than a Las Vegas-style casino. Whitehall sources later acknowledged that the controversial plans were "dead in the water".

His abrupt announcement was greeted with delight by anti-gambling campaigners, but with fury from MPs and businesses in the north-west, who questioned why the government had changed its mind at such a late stage. They complained that the belated decision had wasted time and money, and dashed hopes of bringing up to £200m investment and as many as 2,700 jobs to the deprived area of east Manchester.

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown
MPs originally backed the idea of creating 17 new casinos. But growing concerns about the impact of the largest one, and anger when Manchester, rather than Blackpool, was chosen as its site, led to a startling but narrow defeat for the plans in the House of Lords in March. Tessa Jowell, the then culture secretary, insisted that the plans were "very much alive", while Tony Blair expressed anger at the Lords' decision and warned critics that continuing to oppose them would stop regeneration, not gambling.

Yesterday it became clear that Mr Brown intends to drop the largest venue, while proceeding with the other 16. He has never been an enthusiast for gambling and raised the top rate of gaming duty to 50% in the budget.

"He's all right about smaller casinos, but I don't think he [ever] liked the idea of this larger one," said one minister.

But the timing of Mr Brown's remarks raised eyebrows in Westminster. His spokesman said the prime minister had not discussed it with the cabinet, but had agreed a position with the new culture secretary, James Purnell.

Mr Brown appeared to have pushed forward the announcement to regain ground after Tory proposals to treat married couples more favourably in the tax system were given a warm reception by the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

On a day which began with Mr Brown telling the BBC that he was "the son of a Church of Scotland minister", it prompted speculation that he was seeking to re-focus attention on Labour's own values. It is understood that he attempted to contact the leader of Manchester City Council before making his comments in the house but was not able to reach him.

Asked by the Labour backbencher Andy Reed whether he would reconsider supercasinos, Mr Brown told MPs: "This is an issue on which there is no consensus found in the two houses of parliament. And it is an issue now subject to reflection over the next few months. In September we will have a report that will look at gambling in our country - the incidence and prevalence of it and the social effects of it.

"I hope that during these summer months we can look at whether regeneration in the areas for the supercasinos may be a better way of meeting their economic and social needs than the creation of supercasinos."

Whitehall sources said there was virtually no prospect of the regional casino going ahead.

Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, said: "This raises serious questions about Gordon Brown's credibility ... We know how much influence Brown had under Tony Blair's government - why didn't he say something then?"

Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, and Gordon Marsden, an MP for Blackpool, which had still hoped it might get a supercasino, vowed to carry on fighting and demanded a meeting with the prime minister and culture secretary.

Mr Stringer attacked the "weak and bad" decision, telling BBC Radio 4: "The idea that Manchester City Council haven't thought of all the possible ways to regenerate east Manchester is, quite frankly, insulting. Unless the government is going to replace that level of investment ... nothing is going to happen in one of the most deprived parts of this country."

Manchester's chamber of commerce said the announcement was "devastating" and "an awful lot of time and money [had been] wasted". But Sir Richard Leese, leader of the city council, said the council would continue to push for a casino.

A Salvation Army spokesman welcomed Mr Brown's statement, adding: "[We have] always maintained that increasing opportunities to gamble may have a long-term detrimental effect on individuals and communities and that better ways need to be found to regenerate areas."

A supercasino would have had up to 1,250 gaming machines, with unlimited stakes and prize money, whereas the large casinos introduced under the government plans would have only 150 machines, with top stakes of £2 and prizes of £4,000.