U.K. Casinos: All Bets Off

All bets are off on what’s happening about U.K. casinos after the government lost a parliamentary vote on building a Las Vegas-style gambling house in Manchester.

The motion to build a 5,000-square meter super casino in Manchester and 16 smaller and less controversial ones in other major cities was supported by the House of Commons, but it fell down in the House of Lords by just three votes.

The government defeat hardly opens up the doors for companies like the Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group, which wanted to have a casino inside the The O2 dome, because it looks to be more of a constitutional issue.

London still looks the least likely location for the U.K.’s first major casino. The original brief was to put it in a major city such as Manchester, or equally Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle or Bristol, and monitor the effect it had on the local community.

Opening up in the capital doesn’t fit the bill, as it’s arguably not a "typical" city. However, according to a narrow majority of the Lords, neither is Manchester.

Before the vote, culture secretary Tessa Jowell told Financial Times that "there is no Plan B" if the March 28th vote should go against the government, and now she’s left working hard getting the issue back on track.

Getting to the root of what went wrong is the first problem as some lords are thought to have voted against the proposal because they didn’t agree with Manchester being chosen for the first casino, others because they wanted the 16 smaller sites looked at as a separate issue, and others – with the constitution of the House of Lords itself under review – may have felt it was a good chance to have a stand-off with the House of Commons.

Manchester was recommended by an independent panel, which put it ahead of Blackpool (and London). But many MPs and Lords are questioning that judgment. Others aren’t happy that the panel had fulfilled its brief properly.

Jowell tried to stave off defeat from that corner by promising critics the government would set up a committee of politicians to retrospectively assess whether the panel had done its job.

But that wasn’t enough to sway the lords into rubber stamping the panel’s recommendations.

The government’s best way forward looks to be to split Manchester and the 16 other casinos and make them two separate issues, something Jowell refused to do this time around, and hope both Houses give the go-ahead to the other smaller provincial venues.

Gambling firms including Malaysia’s Genting, U.S firms such as Harrah’s, MGM Mirage and Las Vegas Sands, and the U.K.’s Ladbrokes and Rank Group all had been looking to run the new rooms.