Casino bidders get past the first hurdle

Casino operators, including Liverpool-based Stanley Leisure, were yesterday celebrating after hearing that their applications had cleared the first hurdle.

The Gambling Commission said it has so far dealt with 29 applications for new venues and approved all 29 of them.

The casino operators now face the second test for their applications – gaining approval from local authorities, which will often refuse a licence if the casino owners cannot prove there is local demand.

Stanley Leisure yesterday declined to comment, but it is one of a number of casino operators in the UK who applied for new outlets last April.

The Government is planning 17 new casinos, including one Las Vegas-style supercasino, under new legislation to open up and regulate the gambling industry from 2007.

But before the new legislation – the Gaming Act 2005, which took force in April 2006 – operators rushed in 63 new casino applications under the old regime, based on 1968 legislation.

Malaysia’s Genting recently gained a foothold in the lucrative British market after it acquired Stanley in a GBP 639m deal back in September.

US casino group Harrah’s is currently entering the British market too, through the acquisition of London Clubs International.

In total, Britain’s 140 casinos could swell to around 190 once all the applications under new and old legislation have been dealt with and although it could be 2010 before they are all up and running, analysts have warned that over-supply could lead to increased competition.

Paul Leyland, at Arbuthnot Securities, said: „I’d be nervous about capacity. They’re also aiming to be over 20,000 square feet, which is about three times as big as many of the existing casinos. Some casinos are already closing down this year, including two that had been open less than 18 months.“

Wayne Brown, at Altium Securities, said: „It’s a case of getting the marketing right to increase demand. It’s going to be a big learning experience, but Genting and Harrah’s have that experience.“

Last month, Stanley Leisure executives held a glitzy opening night for its newly-refurbished casino, on Stanley Street, in Liverpool city centre.