AN INDEPENDENT study to assess the impact of a new generation of casinos on the North West is being launched today.
The research will consider the economic impact of new casinos on the region's economy including whether any should be sited in Liverpool, in the wake of the Government's new Gambling Bill.
But, yesterday, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell bowed to pressure from her own party and indicated that she is prepared to accept changes to the Gambling Bill as it progresses through Parliament.
Acknowledging that the public have serious concerns about the Bill's potential impact, Ms Jowell said: "I will take very seriously constructive proposals for improving this Bill. I will listen to what Parliament has to say." If passed, the Bill will modernise the legislation governing gambling in England and Wales, opening the way for developers to establish large regional casinos.
The new study, by Salford consultants Pion Economics, was commissioned by the North West Development Agency in partnership with the Government Office NW and the NW Regional Assembly.
Researchers will examine the possible impact of varying the number of casinos across the region, and look into possible future locations.
The findings will be used to develop a planning policy that will aim to maximise benefits across the North West.
Local authorities including Liverpool, Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley and Halton are being asked to feed into the research by registering any interest in housing one of the large regional casinos.
Earlier this year, the owner of Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Peel Holdings, announced it was joining forces with Las Vegas casino company MGM Mirage to build a multi-million pound gambling complex at the Kings Dock.
It said the Liverpool scheme would create 2,500 jobs and is likely to include a luxury hotel and leisure and conference facilities worth £200m for the local economy.
Last night, Steve Broomhead, NWDA Chief Executive, said: "The proposed changes to gambling legislation have the potential to create huge economic benefits for England's North West and the UK as a whole.
"This study will be vital in determining the economic impact of casinos and identifying how this can be capitalised upon, as well as presenting a major opportunity for anyone with an interest in casino development to express their views on this important issue."
A regional casino will require a minimum area exclusively for table games of 1,000 square metres and a minimum additional gambling area of 2,500 square metres.
They will also need a minimum non-gambling area available to customers of 1,500 square metres.
They will allow up to 25 gaming machines per gaming table, and up to a maximum 1,250 machines will be permitted to provide betting and bingo.
Earlier this week, a Labour MP tabled a Commons early day motion welcoming the Bill's tighter regulatory regime, but declining to support clauses allowing for the introduction of super-casinos.
The motion was signed by 10 more Labour MPs including Liverpool West Derby MP Bob Wareing.
Keith Barnes, Regional Director of the GONW, said: "There are big changes coming in the gambling industry.
"It is vital we have a clear understanding of its effects on the regional economy and the potential for regeneration, tourism and jobs."
Any organisation or individual wishing to make representations should send comments to: Jim Twomey, Pion Economics, Technology House, Lissadel Street, Salford, M6 6AP.
Visit www.culture.gov.uk for more information.