Small firms could be „knocked out“ by big businesses if Southport wins the race to build a new „Las Vegas-style“ casino, the town’s MP has warned.
John Pugh, a Liberal Democrat, said he feared claims that big casinos could breathe new life into towns and cities were exaggerated and misleading.
Instead, he told MPs: „First, they are not necessary for regeneration and, secondly, even as vehicles for regeneration, they have mixed effects.
„Yes, they create employment, but they also knock out many local businesses, which are replaced by big concerns.“
Dr Pugh also said he was mystified why a Labour government wanted to encourage more casinos, when the move would redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich.
He was immediately accused of a U-turn after sitting on the Commons committee whose report cleared the way for the new casinos – an allegation he denied..
Dr Pugh’s comments are likely to raise eyebrows at Sefton Borough Council, which is locked in a race – with Warrington and St Helens – to be the „casino capital“ of Merseyside and North Cheshire.
The three authorities have all told the Government they are interested in securing one of a limited number of money-spinning licences, with a decision due at the end of the year.
A total of 30 councils are competing for eight licences for a „large“ casino, with up to 150 gaming machines, or a further eight licences for a „small“ casino, with a maximum of 80.
Sefton is believed to be eager to attract a casino operator to Southport, as part of £4m plans to transform the town centre, although it insists there is no specific proposal.
Both large and small casinos will be allowed to invite a major bookmaker to set up inside, an extra attraction outlawed in existing casinos.
The larger facilities can also run bingo games. However, the maximum jackpot offered by the slot machines will remain the same, at £4,000.
During a Commons debate, Dr Pugh – asked about his „U-turn“ – said he had met worried retailers and hoteliers on a visit to Blackpool, another contender for a casino.
He said: „One does not agree with absolutely every word of every report with which one is associated. I am unconvinced.“
It is likely only one of Sefton, Warrington and St Helens will succeed, because the Government is insisting on a „good geographical spread“ of casinos.
If the three authorities wish to stay in the casino race, they must turn their expressions of interest into firm applications before the deadline of March 31.
Liverpool – once tipped to be home a much bigger „super-casino“ at Kings Dock – has now opted out of the race altogether.