AEG Exits U.K. Casino Battle

AEG’s hopes of opening the first of the U.K.’s "super casinos" on London’s Millennium Dome site were dashed when the government plumped for Manchester instead.

The new gambling house will be based at Sportcity, which is in Manchester’s Beswick area and close to the City of Manchester Stadium, now used by Manchester City FC and built for the Commonwealth Games.

It will have floorspace the size of a soccer pitch to accommodate up to 1,250 slot machines offering limitless jackpots and will offer 24-hour Las Vegas-style gambling including roulette and the full range of card games.

The city council will now look at proposals from major gambling firms, probably including Rank, Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment – which has just bought London Clubs International – and Malaysia’s Genting Bhd, which now owns all of the U.K.’s Stanley Leisure casinos.

The Casino Advisory Panel’s decision came as something of a shock as The Dome (now The O2) and a site near Blackpool’s Golden Mile had been considered front-runners to win the license.

"We were particularly impressed by Manchester’s proposal, which in our view offers great promise," commented CAP chairman Professor Stephen Crow.

He said the bid promised the "highest standards of social responsibility," with an independent Community Trust overseeing its workings.

The bid organizers, which included the city council, said the casino would regenerate a poor area of east Manchester, promising a £265 million investment and 2,700 new jobs.

Prior to the January 30th decision, the U.K. media had speculated that the government wouldn’t dare give the license to AEG and The Dome because it feared another backlash over the controversial meetings between AEG chief Philip Anschutz and U.K. deputy leader John Prescott.

But Professor Crow told BBC Radio FiveLive that the meetings, which saw Anschutz giving Prescott a Stetson and some cowboy boots, had no bearing on the decision.

"We all heard the news at the time but didn’t think it had a serious relevance," he explained.

Not getting the first "super casino" wasn’t expected to be much of a setback for AEG as further licenses were believed to be in the offing. But after the announcement that Manchester would get the honors, culture secretary Tessa Jowell said no more licenses will be granted until after the next general election, which is probably three years away.

At press time, AEG declined to comment but it had obviously been hoping to get the go-ahead.

Last June, AEG Europe chief exec David Campbell was quoted saying, "We are planning for a casino there, and until we get told that we are not having a casino there we are not making alternative plans."

A month later, AEG chief exec Tim Leiweke told the Los Angeles Times that the British press was damaging his boss’ reputation with its effort to bring down Prescott.

He reportedly dismissed stories that Anschutz could have used private meetings with Prescott to seek favours as "vicious" and "false."

The CAP has also revealed the sites recommended for another eight large and eight small casinos.

The large ones will be built at Great Yarmouth, Kingston-upon-Hull, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Newham, Solihull and Southampton.

Bath and North East Somerset, Dumfries and Galloway, East Lindsey, Luton, Scarborough, Swansea, Torbay and Wolverhampton will be granted licenses for smaller casinos.