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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 March 2006, 10:44 GMT
South West: Casino concerns
Gillon Carruthers
The Politics Show South West

Roulette wheel
Plans for a Casino are controversial

Politicians are being warned not to gamble with the future of Taunton.

The Conservative-controlled borough council decided to move forward with controversial plans for a Casino in the town.

But angry Liberal Democrats claim there has been no proper consultation.

Despite the opposition, Taunton looks set to try and cash in on the Government's Gambling Bill.

Gambling is a hugely emotive subject, as the Government found out when it had major problems getting its reforms passed last year.

In the end, it had to be satisfied with a watered down version in the Gambling Act of 2005.

It had originally wanted to open the door to a large number of big "super casinos" offering unlimited jackpots, a proposal which met with strong opposition.

Bowing to pressure, the Government has now permitted only one super casino as a pilot, with Blackpool the frontrunner as the location.

In addition there will be eight large and eight small casinos - all taking advantage of the bill which will sweep away many of the restrictions on gambling.

In the regional and large casinos, bingo and betting will be permitted along with gaming machines, and it's a "large" casino which Taunton Borough Council's executive wants to build.

It has already identified two possible sites and there are plans in place for other redevelopment.

As well as a casino there would be a hotel, restaurants and other leisure facilities.

Among those in favour is Cllr Norman Cavill (con), who is the Economic Development Portfolio Holder with Taunton Deane Borough Council:

"We had to express interest before Christmas.

"The government came back to us, and we're now at the next stage of putting in a submission, if they consider us appropriate for a casino license."

There are claims that between 350 and 600 jobs will be created.

But Liberal Democrat councillor Hazel Prior-Sankey, a member of the local Baptist Church is against the plans, for moral and political reasons.

She says: "My main problem is the 'hole in the wall way' that this is being prepared and the lack of information being given to the council as a whole.

"We have really had to tease it out of the ruling group, exactly what has happened about this bid and what the submission is."

But despite fears of unruly behaviour and gambling problems, business people say the casino doesn't have to be a bad thing for the town.

Among them is Taunton Town Centre Manager, Lucy Ball:

"Taunton is due to expand and in that expansion we have to look at all tastes.

We are looking for major companies to come here and their employees, and a casino is just one part of the mix that we have to look at."

Taunton's application, which can be withdrawn at any time, has to be in by the end of the March 2006.

All submissions will then be forwarded to an Advisory Panel - which will give it's recommendations to the secretary of state by the end of the year.

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