Gambling on our Future?

The Government's supercasino plans were thrown into doubt on Wednesday when Gordon Brown announced a review of the policy. Niall Cooper, National Coordinator for Church Action on Poverty, tells us why he thinks a super-casino in Manchester is a bad idea.

As a Mancunian, and head of Manchester based charity, Church Action on Poverty I've taken particular interest in the row over the proposed location of the UK's first "Super Casino" in the city.

Along with most others in the city and beyond (including the City Council itself), I was surprised and shocked to hear the announcement that Manchester had 'won' the bid for the 'Super Casino' on 30 January. Having recovered composure, and picked myself up from the floor, I swiftly issued a brief press statement to the effect that the super-casino will threaten to worsen the city's already poor record on debt and child poverty.

Why Manchester?

Like probably most here, prior to 30 January, I'd only taken a passing interest in the competition for the Super Casino. Colleagues in Sheffield had actively campaigned against it there - but in reality it was a foregone conclusion - the Casino Advisory Panel's choice was simple: Blackpool or Greenwich?

|QUOTE|Since the announcement, I've taken the trouble to read Manchester's bid and supporting documents, the representations made to the Casino Advisory Panel, the research the Panel themselves commissioned into the likely social and regeneration impact ...... and finally, the Panel's on reasons for their choice of Manchester.

In the Casino Advisory Panel's view, Manchester City Council represents 'A safe pair of hands; Manchester, as a major conurbation is a good place to 'test' the impact of a Super Casino; East Manchester in particular - has the highest levels of poverty and deprivation of any of the six areas bidding, and Manchester's bid was the most persuasive in how they propose to monitor and address the social impacts.

Yet, neither the Casino Advisory Panel, nor the City Council made any attempt to ask the communities of East Manchester - let alone more widely across Manchester - what we thought about the Casino proposal, let alone whether we wanted it.

East Manchester - worst of all possible locations?

What is clear from the Casino Advisory Panel's own research, however, is that East Manchester is possibly the worst place to build a Super Casino.

Only the week before the announcement, Save the Children reported that Manchester has one of the worst records for child poverty in the country. Locating the UK's first super-casino in East Manchester - one of the poorest areas of the city - runs the risk of worsening the city's already poor record on tackling child poverty. Many families across the city are already struggling to make ends meet - the super casino is likely to tip many over the edge into crippling and unsustainable debt.

The Faith Network for Manchester - a forum representing faith communities across the city - has taken a similarly strong line against Manchester's bid. In an open letter published the day of the Parliamentary vote on the proposals, the Faith Network stated that: "We are concerned that the people of Manchester are to be used in a huge social experiment to test the effect of a super-casino on a community. Locating the super-casino in East Manchester in particular will draw in local people already living in debt and compound their problems. There will be an increase in crime, traffic congestion and prostitution."

Far from stimulating the regeneration of the area, a super casino in East Manchester could create a rise in debt, gambling addicts, crime, debt and homelessness. Recent research from Australia suggests that relaxing gambling laws has led to an increase in homelessness, problem gambling and other social problems. The council talks about it bringing jobs and tourism but regeneration is not to be welcomed at any cost.

The City Council's most persuasive argument is that the Casino will create 2,700 new jobs. Yet on closer inspection this claim is shown to be somewhat misleading. The Council's own figures show that only 1,300 jobs will actually be created at the casino - and many will be low paid, part-time and unskilled. Of the rest, 500 are short term construction jobs, others are based on speculative figures as to numbers of jobs created elsewhere. Yet, the Casino Advisory Panel's own research shows that Super Casinos are as likely to suck jobs and money out of the local economy as they are to create them.

So let's hope that the Government uses the breathing space created by the House of Lords No vote to think again.

As the Faith Network concluded: "We reject the idea of using Manchester residents as the 'test bed' in a huge social experiment, which all agree will have negative social impacts on significant numbers of people. We all want regeneration but surely there are better, more sustainable and more imaginative ways than this."

[Re-printed in Christian Today with the kind permission of Niall Cooper at Church Action on Poverty]

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