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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 06:28 GMT
Blackpool bids for casino culture
Blackpool at night
Blackpool could be centre for "casino culture" in the UK
The former mayor of Atlantic City is visiting Blackpool to discuss the impact of gambling on the tourist industry.

James Whelan, who was mayor of the United States city from 1990 until 1 January this year, was due in the seaside resort on Thursday.

Atlantic City - like Las Vegas - is one of America's biggest 24 hour gambling resorts and attracts about 34 million visitors every year.

Blackpool-based company Leisure Parcs - who own Blackpool Tower - want to build a Las Vegas-style "super casino" hotel complex.

James Whelan
James Whelan is in the UK for a week

Marc Etches, managing director of Leisure Parcs, believes casino gambling is the key to the regeneration of Blackpool.

He told BBC News Online: "Our proposals will turn Blackpool into a high-quality year-round destination attracting both domestic and international tourism.

"By listening carefully to experienced people such as Jim Whelan, we can learn lessons from Atlantic City."

Under current UK laws, casinos are permitted only in 53 designated areas, and cannot provide music or live entertainment or serve alcohol at gambling tables.

Slot machine jackpots are limited and gamblers must apply for membership 24 hours before they enter a casino.

Blackpool provides the perfect opportunity with its fun image and reputation for the best live entertainment outside London

James Whelan

Mr Etches said their planned hotel would generate 3,000 jobs initially, rising to 25,000 as the resort grows.

He added: "Resort casino hotels present a very real opportunity for UK tourism and we feel passionately that Blackpool has a once in a lifetime opportunity for economic and social renewal."

In the 80s, Blackpool attracted 20 million visitors every year. That figure has slumped to 10 million and the town in the 32nd-most-deprived in the country.

Mr Whelan is in the UK to meet political figures and tourism representatives to discuss how a casino culture could turn around fortunes.

He said: "Blackpool provides the perfect opportunity with its fun image and reputation for the best live entertainment outside London.

"Resort casino hotels are ideally suited to coastal resorts.

Las Vegas
Las Vegas has hundreds of spectacular hotels

"To allow resort casino hotels to pop up all over the country will dilute the impact of their introduction to the UK.

"Las Vegas has succeeded in attracting international tourism because its destination exudes images of high quality, themed hotels that are at the very heart of the visitor experience."

The prospect of a casino culture has raised some concerns in Blackpool.

The Bishop of Blackburn, the Right Reverend Alan Chesters, is considering a visit to Las Vegas to look at how the culture has affected local communities.

Martin Halsall, spokesman for the Blackburn Diocese told BBC News Online: "There are concerns within Christian circles generally about what these proposals mean, both positive and negative aspects.

"The Bishop is considering going to meet Christians in Las Vegas to see the impact on their communities.

"He wants to look into this very carefully. He wants to go and see for himself what the effects have been."

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See also:

17 Jul 01 | Business
Blackpool: The new Las Vegas?
05 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Gambling laws 'set for overhaul'
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