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Manchester gets UK's first supercasino licence 30/01/2007
Matthew Tempest

Manchester has won the race to host Britain's first ever supercasino in a shock decision which saw it overhaul the favourites Blackpool and the Greenwich Dome.

The news - at 11am today - came as a blow to Blackpool's hopes of an immediate regeneration from gambling, while the Dome, under its new American owners, was hoping to combine a new casino with a concert hall, hotel and Olympic facilities.

But both cities may draw hope from reports that the government may now revert to its original plan and allow further large casinos region-wide. (Ministers believe they will be able to swiftly relax the restrictions on super-casinos so that more than one Las Vegas style gambling resort can be built in the UK.)

The culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, will explain the surprise decision to MPs in the Commons at 3.30pm today.

Steve Weaver, chief executive of Blackpool Council, whose bid was the bookmakers' favourite, said the resort was "surprised and hugely disappointed by the panel's recommendation but we are not giving up".

Manchester has now won the right to host a 5,000 sq metre casino with up to 1,250 unlimited slot machines.

The supercasino is to be built in Beswick, a poor area of east Manchester. It will be based at Sportcity, close to the City of Manchester stadium - built for the Commonwealth Games and now used by Manchester City football club.

The leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese, said: "This is fantastic news for Manchester and the region. We have always believed that Manchester offers a robust testbed for the successful implementation of this major leisure and tourism development.

Manchester's bid promises the "highest standards of social responsibility", with an independent community trust to oversee its workings. The proposed site is at the heart of a region with a population of 3 million potential gamblers.

Bid organisers say it will regenerate the area, promising a £265m investment and 2,700 direct and indirect jobs in one of the most deprived parts of the country.

The site will also contain an entertainment complex with a range of facilities such as a multi-purpose arena, a swimming pool, an urban sports venue, restaurants, bars, a nightclub and a hotel. Professor Stephen Crow, the chair of the independent Casino Advisory Panel which made the decision, told Sky News: "Blackpool was good, but it was a competition and Manchester was better."

He said the finalists had not been graded or listed, but Manchester simply chosen as the winner on three criteria - social impact, regeneration and the willingness to license.

In the same announcement, large casino licences were granted to Great Yarmouth, Kingston-upon-Hull, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Newham, Solihull and Southampton.

Smaller casino licences were granted to Bath and North East Somerset, Dumfries and Galloway, East Lindsey, Luton, Scarborough, Swansea, Torbay and Wolverhampton.

The Dome in Greenwich - now called The O2 - was earlier regarded as favourite in the race, then Blackpool surged ahead at the 11th hour. Bookie Paddy Power made the resort its favourite and slashed the odds on it winning to 4/6 at the weekend.

The large casinos will cover up to 1,500 sq metres and house up to 150 gaming machines with jackpots of up to £4,000. Small casinos will cover up to 750 sq metres and house up to 80 of the £4,000 maximum jackpot gaming machines.