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Revolt by MPs may force casino review 25/02/2007
Nick Mathiason Sunday February 25, 2007

The government is reconsidering the shock decision to award Britain's first super-casino to Manchester to stem a powerful rebellion among MPs and Lords. The revelation is the latest twist in Labour's tortuous attempt to liberalise gambling laws.

As the number of MPs who have registered opposition to a super-casino opening in Manchester this weekend grew to more than 100, Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, is 'considering the arguments for appointing an ad hoc committee of MPs' to look again at the issue. Jowell told MPs and Lords of the possibility in a private meeting last week. It will be welcomed by Blackpool, seen by many as the logical venue for the country's first Las Vegas-style gambling venue, but will infuriate Manchester council leaders.

MPs and experts dealing with gambling addiction have expressed concern at the conclusions of a collection of five planning experts set up by the government to choose the site. They say the panel's choice of east Manchester is the worst place because it is a deprived yet densely populated area that would suffer high instances of problem gambling.

Baroness Golding
Baroness Golding
John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the culture select committee, said: 'This whole process has been dogged by disaster. In my view Blackpool always has been clear favourite. I was surprised by the outcome of the panel. Manchester is the location that will most likely lead to problem gambling.'

Labour veteran Baroness Golding said: 'I don't have anything against Manchester but this should not be in the middle of a city where there's a lot of poverty.'

Senior figures within Gamcare, the industry-funded body set up to deal with problem gambling, echoed this view to The Observer.

More than half the MPs who have registered their opposition are Labour, increasing the chance of an embarrassing government U-turn. Hugo Swire, the Tory shadow culture minister, said this weekend the situation is 'fluid'. MPs are also concerned at the quality of the report by independent planning experts on which the decision to locate a casino with 1,250 slot machines was based.

Alan Cavill, Blackpool council's head of corporate policy, said: 'We were not just disappointed by the report; we were offended by it. Not enough work was done to understand the nature of what the planning experts had to do. Their report was inconsistent and used subjective language. They made assessments on the basis of skills they didn't have. We welcome a review of the report but we don't know whether any review will bounce Blackpool back to the top of the list.'

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has received tens of thousands of emails and letters criticising the decision. Jowell, who has guided the Gambling Act through parliament, has faced criticism at every turn. Initially she proposed dozens of super-casinos in British towns and cities.