Frustration at Great Yarmouth large casino delay

A leading Great Yarmouth businessman has angrily attacked the borough council for allowing the town to slip further behind in the race to build the country's first large casino.

The council has extended the deadline for casino licence applications from January 31 to May 31, blaming the fact that its staff will be busy organising referendums on the government's alternative voting proposals and whether Yarmouth wants a directly elected mayor.

Chris Skinner, the council's head of central services, said a further factor in the delay was a blunder by the International Casino Review in attributing its initial license advert in September to Hull City Council, which meant the advert had to be repeated a month later.

It means the two-stage process in choosing the operator of the casino, one of only eight being allowed nationally under the 2005 Gambling Act, is unlikely to be finished until December next year – 18 months later than originally envisaged.

Meanwhile, Newham council in East London is preparing to announce its large casino operator as early as February and Solihull in the West Midlands is also expected to be months ahead of Yarmouth in the race.

Albert Jones, the boss of Yarmouth's Pleasure Beach, who hopes to deliver the casino with the Aspinall Group as part of a �35m leisure complex on South Denes, described the excuses as 'crazy'.

Highlighting the commercial advantage of being one of the first large casinos to open, he asked: 'What's more important, a referendum on an elected mayor or the 1,000 jobs the casino and leisure facilities would bring?'

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He described the delay as 'frustrating' and said The Aspinall Group had been working 'full steam ahead' to the January deadline.

Mr Jones's scheme, which already has planning permission, would see the Aspinall Group casino as the centrepiece of a massive leisure development – The Edge – also incorporating a hotel, car parking, bowling, multiplex cinema, restaurants and bars.

Graham Plant, borough council cabinet member for regeneration, said the delay was unavoidable because of the limit to staff resources.

However, he admitted he was annoyed the town was slipping further behind in the casino race and laid the blame with the campaigners fighting for an elected mayor, something local Tories had condemned as a waste of money.

The boss of Yarmouth's Palace Casino, Patrick Duffy, who has also signalled his intention of fighting for the licence, was philosophical about the delay. Envisaging his own �35m-plus leisure scheme on land leading down to the river from his Church Plain casino, he said: 'I regard it as positive that the process has slowed down. It gives us more time to look at the economic outlook and other factors such as the new government's position on the casinos.'