The chips are being counted, the roulette wheels prepared, the gaming machines readied. From next week, the doors of the UK’s newest and shiniest casino will be thrown open, giving up to 2,000 people at any one time the chance to try their luck on the turn of a card or the throw of a dice.
Those behind Resorts World Birmingham claim the leisure and casino complex will deliver a touch of Las Vegas fun and glamour to the West Midlands. But critics fear the casino, which will be open 24 hours a day, could lead to an increase in problem gambling and misery.
The scale of the development – to British sensibilities at least – is huge. Genting UK, part of of the Malaysian giant Genting Group, has invested £150m into the project, which follows similar models in Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Singapore and New York.
Based on the shape of a cruise ship, Resorts World Birmingham will house 18 bars and restaurants, 50 outlet shops, an Imax cinema (all 11 screens will be showing the new Bond next week), spa, hotel – and the Genting International Casino.
It features no fewer than 150 slot machines and a “Slots Mania Tournament” is promised, during which competitors will be able to find out if they are the “best slots player in town”.
On what Genting calls a “truly impressive gaming floor”, there will be 31 tables for casino favourites such as American roulette and blackjack, where visitors will be able to bet up to £1,000 a time.
Those who prefer not to sit or stand around a table can watch live feeds of a roulette wheel spinning and place bets remotely. Smokers do not have to take a break from gambling: they can place bets in an outdoor gaming area.
“Whatever your gaming preferences, we give you outstanding choice, quality and service,” Genting says. “And our hosts and valets are always on hand to help provide the perfect atmosphere to relax, unwind and play.”
The development may surprise those who remember the row over Blairite plans for supercasinos a decade ago and the subsequent U-turn by Labour. But under the 2005 Gambling Act the door was opened for so-called “large casinos”.
The Casino Advisory Panel has given the go-ahead for eight casinos. The first two are already operating in east London and Milton Keynes. ButBirmingham will be the most high profile.
It was approved by Solihull borough council, which was attracted by the 1,750 jobs promised during construction and the 1,100 hospitality and leisure jobs.
Bob Sleigh, the leader of the Conservative-controlled council, said it considered the problems a casino could cause very carefully and took advice before approving the plan. “We thought long and hard about it, but we’re confident a highly responsible company is in charge,” he said.
Local politicians and business leaders insist the complex will bring millions to the West Midlands.
But organisations who work with problem gamblers point out that the business is all about making money – in this case for a business whose parent firm is based halfway across the world in Malaysia. NHS figures suggest there are more than half a million gamblers in the UK. Some fear that providing more chances to bet will increase that number.
Simon Perfitt, of Rethink Gambling, said: “The fundamental economic dynamic of a casino is taking money out of the community, not bringing money in. Casinos attract the majority of their customers from nearby communities and encourage repeat visits from local residents. Players spend money that would otherwise be spent somewhere else in the local economy.”
Perfitt flagged up a US study that found people who live within 10 miles of a casino have twice the rate of pathological and problem gambling as those who do not.
He added: “This casino will have a negative social and economic impact on the local community. The cost of residential treatment for a single gambling addict is £10,000.”
Jim Orford, professor of clinical and community psychology at the University of Birmingham and the founder of Gambling Watch UK, said he worried that putting a casino in a leisure complex within the landmark NEC site helped normalise gambling. “In some places, for example in Singapore, the government deliberately makes it more expensive for locals to enter the casino because it is anxious to protect its own citizens,” he said.
Marc Etches, chief executive of the Responsible Gambling Trust, said such developments would “inevitably be accompanied by publicity and attract attention”. He said: “The casino operator has a duty to ensure they look after their customers once they are through the door, to make sure they are able to enjoy gambling without experiencing harm.”
Genting, meanwhile, has expressed frustration that its casino cannot be bigger. Peter Brooks, president of Genting UK, has called it a “complete joke” that can only install 150 slot machines – compared with the 4,000 it has in New York.
The company believes it may attract 2 million people to its resort every year but believes the vast majority will be visitors rather than locals.
It emphasises that the casino is just one part of the complex and promises that providing “a safe and secure environment that protects vulnerable and problem gamers” is a priority.
A spokesman said: “Social responsibility is at the core of the company’s ethos and operations. We make a significant investment in staff training and in internal systems to ensure that robust procedures are in place to identify and then support any visitor to one of our venues who develops issues with gaming.”
Source: The Guardian