Supplementary memorandum submitted by Blackpool Challenge Partnership
Thank you for your letter of 19 June 2002 requesting answers to a number of questions.
We are pleased to have the opportunity to provide this information. Our responses are as follows:
1. How would you propose to control under age entry to gaming floors given that Blackpool is essentially a family resort and that resort casino developments do seek to attract all ages to their other facilities?
One of the main reasons we would like to see a clear definition for casinos within the legislation and the planning regime is to allow us to exercise control over the layout of these buildings. We would want to avoid the current type of separation, which would no doubt appear in gaming sheds, that is nothing more than a line on the floor marking the beginning of an adults only area. Planning powers and the definition would provide the opportunity to deliver an internal design that would mean that children never had to come into contact with the gaming element of the building. The legislation as framed without these additional safeguards would in our opinion lead to a gaming shed approach that would have no real chance of being "family friendly".
2. Can you confirm what percentage of the local businesses support the proposals? Can the Partnership give a breakdown of the type of businesses supporting the proposalshow many are small hotels and boarding-houses?
A number of surveys of businesses have been carried out in the town. The town centre forum found that 90 per cent of their members were in favour of resort casino development. This response was from over 150 mostly retail businesses in the town centre. During the early part of 2001 the Partnership held two separate meetings with Hotel and Guest House Associations. There were almost 200 businesses represented at those meetings with the majority being small guest houses or hotels of less than 15 bedrooms. Over 85 per cent of those attending were in favour of the idea of resort casinos provided that there was some benefit to the local economy and a regenerative impact. The opinion research we carried out that included all sectors of the town found that over 70 per cent of people thought that resort casinos would be a good idea provided that they delivered regeneration and local improvements. It is fair to say that all the research we have conducted has shown that people are strongly in favour of the proposal but only if regeneration was the main reason for the introduction of resort casinos.
3. In your "pilot status" proposals you appear to be saying that Blackpool should be used to establish the impact of resort casinos on a community and that Government should wait and see the result before de-regulation to allow others to establish them. If that were the case then what restrictions would you wish to see retained or introduced for the remainder of the country?
We would hope to draw the attention of DCMS to the dangers of moving too quickly on this ground-breaking legislation. Blackpool obviously has practical experience of a concentration of leisure facilities and how they impact on communities; we also feel it would be beneficial for these developments to be part of master planning process as they would be in Blackpool. We do not believe it will be necessary to "hold up" legislation to achieve this. There are two possible options to consider. Licences could be initially controlled by the new Gambling Commission and a phased release to certain areas could be part of a staged role out. Alternatively, each region (as part of greater delegation of powers to the regions) could be asked to decide whether or not it wants to be involved in casino gaming and then put forward a particular area for this purpose. We also feel that a phased release in either of these ways would greatly increase the opportunity to deliver regenerative spin-offs to any area.
4. You recommend DCMS consider a minimum gaming floor size for resort casinos of 10,000 square metres. Leisure Parcs who are in your partnership have recommended a floor space of 5,000 square metreswhy the difference?
There is no technical explanation for this difference. The smaller figure would clearly give a little more flexibility to the developer, the larger figure is more typical of a Las Vegas style gaming floor. We would accept that the order of magnitude is the critical thing and would want to see a limit of at least 5,000 square metres.
5. If Blackpool were to achieve special status would you envisage licences being awarded through a "bid" process? If not how would selection between rival consortiums be achieved?
We would prefer to have developers compete through quality and contribution to the regeneration effort than price. This would be partly achieved by the planning changes and the definition that we have mentioned before. Of course any developer would have to bid for the land on which to build a resort casino and that would be subject to the current rules on achieving best value where the land is owned by the public sector. On the whole we would prefer not to have to police a bidding process for licences.
6. The Partnership states that Blackpool is prepared for the likely social costs of resort casinos. If the Government does not allow for a portion of the levy on gambling to return to the local community, how will Blackpool deal with the social costs? Evidence to the Committee has highlighted research in Australia where it was estimated that for every $1 levied in tax, the social cost was $3.
This is clearly one of the unknown factors in proceeding with any relaxation of the gaming laws. We would claim that we are better placed than most to understand the potential social cost with a town that already has to deal on a regular basis with more than the health and social problems of our indigenous population. That is one of the reasons that we feel that Blackpool, along with some other seaside towns, is a strong contender for piloting these proposals. We are aware of the research relating to Australia and would say that this supports our argument for few large resort casinos (as opposed to many small) and the need for trial areas. The Australian provision of gaming sheds in residential areas was too much too quickly and that appears to have now been recognised as a mistake.
We do believe that a treasury levy on gambling to enable Government to better afford and deal with social issues caused by gambling is a sensible idea and perhaps should have been a feature of gambling legislation in the past. Specifically however for Blackpool and any other local community with casinos. We believe that ability to keep locally businesses rates generated by casinos would enable this money to be invested in regeneration and the social economy and providing an opportunity to support the most vulnerable people in our community including those with gambling problems.
7. The committee has received evidence that the local community is not completely supportive of the resort casinos proposals. For example, in response to a poll run by the Gazette, to the question "Would you be in favour of resort casinos without a gambling levy for a regeneration fund?" 79.4 per cent answered NO. Without a portion of the tax levied on gambling being returned to the Community for the purposes of regeneration, how will the Partnership reassure those not in favour of casino development? Is Blackpool Borough Council considering a referendum?
There have been a number of methods utilised to try and gauge local opinion with only one of these having been carried out by a professional opinion research company. The figure of 71 per cent in favour that we have used in our evidence was achieved in that professional survey. Even the unrepresentative survey in the Gazette produced a slight majority in favour of resort casinos so long as there were local benefits. However all surveys demonstrate that local people would be more in favour if there is a financial return to the local area to help with regeneration. We believe that some form of the legislation already going through the parliamentary process for Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) would provide this without the need for hypothecation or a levy within the gaming legislation. The Council carried out a comprehensive public consultation exercise earlier this year and whilst there was a vociferous anti-campaign the Council concluded that the majority were in favour subject to some local benefit and a few other issues. In the subsequent vote on this report in a full Council meeting the findings and conclusion that the Council was in favour of pursuing Resort Casinos received all party support. For this and other reasons we do not believe that it would be appropriate to carry out a referendum. Referenda we believe have only a limited place to play in the British representative democratic system. In an example such as this the ability to frame a fair and unemotive question would be nigh on impossible. It is worth pointing out that to my knowledge the Council has not received any letter of objection to Resort Casinos other than from the small, but vociferous, anti-gaming lobby; an organisation who has a membership of only a handful of people.
25 June 2002