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Blackpool on the Rocks

8 July 2002

BLACKPOOL, Britian – As reported by the Business Week: "…Visitors to this once-teeming Victorian resort have nearly halved since 1989, to 10 million. That's a serious drop in a town that derives nearly 85% of its income from tourism. Nearly one-third of the town's hotels and guesthouses have gone out of business since 1996. The crime rate is now triple the national average, and the male unemployment rate regularly nudges 9% in some city sections.

"Once a mecca for good, clean family fun, Blackpool has degenerated into a rather tawdry place for raunchy bachelor and bachelorette parties, called stag and hen parties in Britain.

"…One man who thinks he knows the way forward is entrepreneur Trevor Hemmings, Britain's 55th richest person. If he gets his way, tired and tatty Blackpool will become England's answer to Las Vegas. Hemmings, majority owner of entertainment company Leisure Parcs, is behind a $225 million plan to create a glitzy seafront casino, hotel, and convention center in Blackpool. The 1,000-room Egyptian-themed hotel would have high-roller gambling, musical entertainment, and no-limit slot machines.

"…In the last three years, Leisure Parcs has spent $120 million buying up Blackpool's Winter Gardens convention center, its famous Tower and piers, and much of its Golden Mile shorefront property. Now that Hemmings' outfit is a well established force in Blackpool, it looks like its plans for a resort casino will get the thumbs-up from the local council -- provided the British government proceeds with proposed changes to the gaming laws in March, which would make such ventures legal.

"A study commissioned by Leisure Parcs predicts that the casino hotel could generate 3,000 jobs and pump $120 million in additional income into the regional economy. Both the company and the city government believe the first casino will prompt other hotel chains to build as many as five more and create a glitzy seaside gambling strip.

"… Leisure Parcs' ambitious plans are modeled on Atlantic City, N.J., which, like Blackpool, was a faded shadow of its old glory when local government decided to roll the dice.

"…The town council has recognized this plight and is busy trying to create a master plan for regeneration. Hemmings' proposal is a top contender. Other holiday towns to successfully regenerated themselves have done so around a key theme -- like golf or health spas. Gambling could be that driver for Blackpool, they believe.

"…Not all local residents agree that betting Blackpool's fortunes on blackjack and roulette is the best way forward, however. Steven Bates, spokesman for Blackpool Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, fears that unless the government gives Blackpool exclusivity, margins will be slim as these additional establishments pop up across Britain.

"…Tourists -- few and far between on this sunny afternoon -- are mostly senior citizens. Opinions are mixed, but many fear that gambling would increase crime and further sully the town's image…"

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