CASINO bosses are keen to quash fears surrounding problem gambling as they prepare to move into Xscape early next year.
Aspers Casinos won the rights to build a large gaming facility in City Limits, with work set to get under way within the next few weeks.
The site beat off stiff competition from bids at the Leisure Plaza near the train station and from Pete Winkelman at stadium:mk.
Once complete, the complex will house 150 slot machines, 30 gaming tables, 27 screens showing sport from all over the world, a restaurant and several bars, creating 250 jobs in the process. They will also give £500,000 a year to the council to ‘support local comminities’.
But the bid at Xscape was by far the most controversial, with opposition from citizens’ lobby group Xplain and Central Milton Keynes Town Council and members of the Somalian population in Fishermead, highlighting the issue of gambling addiction among society’s more vulnerable.
But speaking exclusively to the Citizen, Richard Noble, chief operating officer of Aspers Casinos said the operators spend a lot of money in helping those with an addiction.
“British casinos are the most regulated form of gaming in the country,” he said. “Almost every street corner has a bookmaker’s, people game online already, and these areas are hardly regulated at all.
“We are heavily regulated as an industry. We will also be giving £250,000 to develop a vulnerable gamers’ office within Milton Keynes and another £175,000 to keep it running. But this is not because we feel it will attract or create problem gamers in Milton Keynes, but it’s to help the community with those who may already have a problem or have a problem in the future.
“It’s such a small minority that have a problem but we want to help those in the community who need it.
“There are very clear signposts to those not enjoying their gaming and we can spot those signs very easily. What we find when we go into the community, people talk a lot about problem gaming but don’t do a lot about preventing it.
“We take it very seriously.”
However, Milton Keynes Council’s decision to award Aspers and Xscape the provisional statement to build the casino hasn’t been met positively from some quarters. Linda Inoki, of Xplain, said people fighting against the casino have been ignored.
She said: “It’s a terrible decision for Milton Keynes. The council has ignored rational objections from local residents, as well as compelling evidence from gambling studies, which all point to Xscape as the worst possible location. Thousands of people, in some of MK’s most fragile communities, live within minutes’ walk of Xscape.”
And Rebecca Kurth, chairman of Central Milton Keynes Town Council, believes the decision to have a casino in Milton Keynes is a huge ‘social experiment’.
She said: “It is a strange selection process where the Xscape location, with all its risks, has come out the winner. The people of MK are being treated as guinea pigs in what is, after all, a massive social experiment in gambling.
“The majority of local residents have told us they do not want this problematic development on their doorstep. Any casino that is open like a convenience store, every hour of the day, is going to lead to more impulsive gambling.”
But Pete Winkelman, chairman of Inter MK and MK Dons, whose bid narrowly missed out on the opportunity to have the casino at stadium:mk, said he has other alternatives to make up for losing out on the venue.
He said: “I would first like to congratulate the Xscape and their casino partners Aspers who have won an extremely competitive process.
“It was important that we took the opportunity to further develop the stadium site and I hope that by getting involved in the casino bid we have helped to raise the bar for the benefit of Milton Keynes.
“I would like to publicly thank our partners Apollo Resorts and London Clubs International (LCI) for helping to create a strong and detailed application, although we were always aware that we would be facing stiff competition from both the Xscape and the Leisure Plaza schemes.
“We do have some very exciting alternative plans which we are now in the process of finalising and I am therefore not too disheartened to have missed out on the Milton Keynes casino opportunity.”