Packer partner plays on after losing hand in casino deal

James Packer’s partner in the British gambling industry yesterday vowed to press ahead with their bid to build a sizable British business, despite their failure to win the nation’s only super-casino licence.
Damian Aspinall said Aspers, his joint venture with Packer’s Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd, would try to pick up the casino management rights for at least two of the 16 smaller casinos that were given licences by the Blair Government on Tuesday.

Eight of those smaller casinos will be allowed up to 150 poker machines with a jackpot limit of pound stg. 4000 (USD 10,000), while the rest will have a limit of 80 such machines. The lucrative 24-hour super casino licence, which was awarded in Manchester on Tuesday, allows unlimited jackpots from up to 1250 machines.

Aspers had worked with the city of Cardiff on its own bid for the super-casino, making the shortlist of eight finalists before missing out to Manchester.

Tessa Jowell, the cabinet secretary responsible for gambling, dashed hopes that more super-casino licences would be issued, saying there would be none until at least the next election, due in 2010. Any further casinos would not be considered until there had been a „proper evaluation over time“ of the impact of the new casinos.

„Las Vegas is not coming to Great Britain … British casinos will be subject to new controls, which will be the strictest in the world,“ she said.

Sports Minister Richard Caborn said yesterday the British controls would avoid the social problems produced in Australia by casino growth.

UK officials have said they have studied the growth of Australian casinos as an example of how not to manage a casino industry. For instance, the Manchester super-casino will be limited to half the 2500 poker machines at Melbourne’s Crown Casino.

There was further bad news for Aspers in the licensing of a new 80-machine casino in Swansea to compete with a smaller operation the Australian-British joint venture is due to open there later this year.

Most of the cities awarded licences have already declared which gambling operators they want to run their casinos, just as Cardiff has expressed its preference for Aspers. But the government insists the licence winners must still hold open bidding processes before signing management contracts.

Mr Aspinall was yesterday optimistic that his firm would win the right to manage the new 150-machine licences granted to the cities of Middlesbrough and Great Yarmouth.

„Aspers is delighted that Middlesbrough’s bid … has been successful,“ he said.

Aspinall said they had already been chosen as the preferred operator of Great Yarmouth’s casino, which he claimed would bring about „the long-term regeneration of the whole of the sea front and will help bring British tourism back to the English seaside“.

Apart from the frustrations in Britain, PBL had worse news in Russia, where the parliament voted to ban all casinos from July 2009 except in four remote zones.

That has scuttled its plans to run a major casino on the edge of Moscow. PBL Gaming chief Rowen Craigie declined to comment yesterday.