NEC casino plan safe from credit crunch

The credit crunch will not restrict the development of a GBP 90 million casino and leisure complex at the NEC, the company behind the scheme has said.

The announcement comes as many other large scale projects in Birmingham and the surrounding area are put on hold by developers fearful of the current economic climate.

Genting Stanley, which recently moved its UK headquarters to Birmingham, is the largest casino operator in the country with more than 40 outlets.

The business is owned by Malaysia-based Genting International, a publicly traded subsidiary of Genting Berhad that operates resorts and casinos around the world. The company plans to operate the NEC casino and the venue is expected to be a major enticement in helping lure tourists to the exhibition centre site.

The scheme comprises a casino with 150 slot machines and a maximum jackpot of GBP 4,000, a hotel and spa, bars and restaurants.

However, the plan is dependent on Solihull Borough Council granting the company a licence to operate the casino.

The authority’s licensing committee is drawing up the ground rules for the decision-making process and it is likely that a public consultation exercise will be necessary before the licence is approved.

Bids from prospective casino operators have to be submitted by April next year and if there is only one bidder then the licence is likely to be granted by June 2009.

If there are two or more bidders, a final decision could be delayed until this time next year.

Executive deputy chairman of Genting Stanley, Peter Brooks, said that the company would be working with both the NEC and the Solihull authority to make the process as easy as possible.

However, he said that no planning application would be submitted until the licence was granted.

“We will work hard with both the NEC and SMBC to develop the project,” he said. “We want to create something that everyone can be proud of.”

Asked if the poor economic climate had had an impact on the scheme, Mr Brooks said: “The timetable for the project remains but it is a moving target.

“We are expecting to get project financing but we are in the hands of the financial markets. However, we have a robust plan, a strong covenant and we can address the challenges,” he added.

The company said it was wary of the current climate and the impact it could have for attracting customers to the new site, however, he added that by the time the casino was ready to open – probably early 2012 if everything goes to plan – the economy would hopefully have turned.

“If things haven’t calmed down by then, then there will be lot of larger things to worry about,” said Mr Brooks.

The casino development itself is expected to be a unique design and Mr Brooks said there were no comparable buildings anywhere else in the group’s portfolio.
However, he said the development would probably be on a scale of the Star City complex.

The scheme, in conjunction with a GBP 28 million makeover of the NEC Arena, will create more than 1,000 jobs and is crucial to a transformation strategy intended to turn the NEC from primarily a conference centre into a major leisure destination.

Although primarily known internationally for casinos, Genting Stanley’s parent group operates some of the most prestigious hotel complexes in the world.

One of the best known is as the Genting Highlands Resort in Malaysia, which offers a wide array of leisure and entertainment facilities supported by no less than 10,000 hotel rooms.

Genting International is also developing the GBP 2.2 billion “Resorts World at Sentosa” integrated resort in Singapore which will be home to a world-class range of attractions including a Universal Studios theme park.