International operators make a play for the big money in British casinos

Las Vegas gambling giant Harrah’s Entertainment has stunned Britain’s sleepy casino industry by raising its already colossal takeover offer for London Clubs, a loss-making operator of just six gaming sites.

It is the clearest marker yet of how lucrative international casino groups believe Britain will become as the 2005 Gambling Act slowly unwinds many of the regulatory constraints that have so tightly bound the industry over the past 40 years.

Operators have also been rushing to expand their empires by applying for casino licences before the old regime is wound down. The Gambling Commission was deluged last year with applications for casinos under the old Gambling Act of 1968. Under the weight of applications, culture secretary Tessa Jowell was forced to impose a cut-off date of April this year.

The Gambling Commission, however, has since revealed that applications for 111 new casino licences – on top of the existing 139 – had been granted or were being processed in the year to April. This means the number of casinos in Britain could leap by 80% to 250 sites even before any next-generation casino is built under the 2005 act.