Business reporter Enda Mullen takes an in-depth look at the NEC’s plans for a casino and leisure complex as a drawn-out process looks set to conclude.
Barring an unlikely spanner being thrown in the works, the NEC group hopes it will be poised to set the wheels in motion for its long-awaited large casino come the end of May.
And if the timetable goes according to plan the slots could be spinning as early as 2013 at the £120 million Resort Worlds complex.
It might seem like a long journey since the Gambling Act of 2005 paved the way for a number of casinos, large and small, across the UK but now it’s Moses within sight of the promised land time.
The scheme, a partnership between the NEC Group and Genting Casinos, will go ahead if Solihull Council grants a large casino licence and gives the proposed development planning permission.
It is hoped the licence application will be dealt with swiftly in the wake of May’s local elections paving the way for a planning application for the 55,000 square metre complex, which would include far more than just a casino.
The complex would also include a 180-bedroom hotel and spa, a banqueting and conference centre, a multi screen cinema, retail units, bars and restaurants and it is estimated it will attract around 650,000 visitors each year.
The partners admit it has been a slow and long journey to get to this point but there is also a sense of relief that at the final hurdle it is a one-horse race.
With the Government awarding a large casino licence to Solihull there was initially interest from other operators but the fact the NEC bid had both a plum site and an industry backer looks set to prove a dream ticket.
Genting Casinos, part of the Genting Group which is one of Malaysia’s largest multinational corporations and operates 40 casinos in the UK, including one at Birmingham’s Star City, has already been working with the NEC for three years on the project.
Britain’s large casinos will be decidedly small compared to those of gambling mecca Las Vegas – or even comparet to countries like Belgium or The Netherlands, where 800 slot machines are not uncommon and one can find up to 3,000, according to Peter Brooks, the executive deputy chairman of Genting Casinos UK.
“The phrase lagging behind hardly does it justice,” he said, comparing how a major slot machine manufacturer might be supplying 4,000 machines to one new casino in Las Vegas, but are looking at a maximum of 2,900 machines for the entire UK market when it comes to the new casinos.
“It is as good as it can get within the constraints of UK legislation,” added Mr Brooks.
The large casinos will be allowed to have 150 slot machines and 30 tables, while small casinos will be able to have 80 machines and up to 40 tables.
Consequently the casino will cover just 10 per cent of the total floor area of Resorts World, which will also have everything from a sky bar to scores of designer retail outlets.
For NEC Group chief executive Paul Thandi the scheme is about creating jobs and boosting the NEC site’s entertainment offering, both as a destination in its own right and offering the kind of infrastructure that will attract more exhibition and conference business.
“This is one of the most exciting developments in the NEC’s history,” he said. “It has taken us a while to get here but I am pleased we have got to this point.
‘‘We need to make much more of our business and make it fit for the 21st century. We wanted more than just a casino and what we have is an entertainment complex that complements what is going on at the LG Arena and the NEC.”
Mr Thandi added that the range of what’s on offer at Resorts World will enable delegates at events and conferences to remain on site rather than travelling further afield.
As far as employment goes more than 1,100 jobs will be created at Resorts World, with another 1,700 during its construction, on a site on the edge of Pendigo Lake between the LG Arena and the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Mr Brooks said: ‘‘We hope to be able to submit a planning application in May. If we can get it opened by the end of 2013 we will be doing well.”
For Mr Thandi Resorts World is a key component in the evolution of the NEC Group and vital to long-term survival.
“It means we will be able to grow our business and bring more events here that are held elsewhere in Europe or throughout the world,” he said.
“Without it our ability to attract business will be limited and we will not be able to compete.’’