LONDON-International casino giants have warned that the government is unlikely to see euro 7.2 billion ($9.3 billion) of investment into the UK if ministers restrict the number of regional casinos in Britain to 10. Ministers are expected to unveil details of the cap tomorrow when the bill is scrutinized in parliamentary committee. The move to restrict the growth of Las Vegas-style casinos is in response to a massive public and parliamentary outcry over the prospect of large numbers of big casinos.

An amendment to the bill is likely to result in a pilot scheme that sees up to 10 regional casinos permitted in the first three years of the new legislation. But the gaming industry fears that the actual number may be as low as four.

“In the government’s own estimates, up to £5 billion could be invested and 80,000 jobs created if the market in the UK is liberalized,” says Lloyd Nathan, the managing director of Europe for MGM Mirage, among the the world’s largest gaming groups. “A cap would significantly impact those figures.”

Peter Byrne, executive director of Sun International, warns that a statutory cap would defeat the government’s aim to limit problem gambling. This, he says, would be because smaller casinos would spring up “on every high street” following the changes to legislation. “Our concern is that if there is going to be a cap, we are going to get proliferation. A raft of small and medium-sized casinos will spring up everywhere. That would be the opposite of what the government is trying to do.”

Nathan adds that US companies had been shocked by the backlash, given that the bill had been so long in drafting and examined by a cross-party scrutiny committee. “There has been a well-organized campaign of misinformation conducted by certain parts of the industry,” he says. “I am assuming that by capping regional casinos, the government would cap the number of smaller casinos as well. If they do not, it will be a very brave operator that would invest euro 357 million in that environment.”

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