"We are expecting casinos in this country to at least double from the current number of 118," says British Gaming Board spokesman Tom Kavanagh. "They are going to be big – like the outlets in France where you get about 60 gaming tables and hundreds of slot machines in one complex."
Kavanagh also thinks the country's stock of casinos be dramatically revamped.
The predicted casino boom follows last month's Budd report, which proposed the biggest shake-up in gambling laws for over 30 years. If the government accepts Sir Alan Budd's recommendations, the 1968 Gaming Act – which places severe restrictions on the gaming industry – will be replaced by liberal new laws.
Sir Alan proposes allowing casinos to be built wherever operators can get planning permission, instead of having to stick to the 53 towns presently deemed suitable.
He also recommends allowing casinos, bingo halls and betting shops to be brought together in giant Las Vegas-style gambling emporiums. Restrictions on alcohol, food and entertainment in gambling venues would be scrapped and the limit of 10 slot machines per casino will also be lifted. If the recommendations are carried out, a wave of themed food-and-flutter outlets such as "curry betting shops" is expected.
The design and location of casinos is expected to change radically as operators try to project a more visitor-friendly image. "Casinos are perceived as forbidding places, where the emphasis is on gambling," says Roger Vale of property consultant King Sturge. "Operators are now looking to place casinos in leisure and retail parks – prominent sites rather than ones which are hidden away." He says operators are already scrambling to secure the most lucrative sites in major cities like Bristol, Manchester and Leeds.
Contractors wanting to get a slice of the action should act fast. The top four casino operators in the UK – Gala, Grosvenor Casinos, Stanley Leisure and London Clubs International (see box) – have already drawn up expansion plans.
LCI intends to eshew the more traditional-style casino in favour of outlets aimed at "the mass market", says Patrick Hayward, LCI's commercial director.
Gala says it is interested in developing giant "gambling sheds" combining casinos, bingo, betting shops and restaurants under one roof.
And Stanley Leisure is planning a new generation of free-standing casinos, which are ready to be rolled out as soon as the law is changed.
UK casinos are going to be big – like the outlets in France where you get about 60 gambling tables and hundreds of slot machines
Tom Kavanagh, British Gaming Board
Leisure developers are also hoping to get in on the act. Developer Leisure Parcs is planning a £1bn project to turn Blackpool into a mini Las Vegas, if the gambling laws are changed.
Blackpool Council hopes an influx of gambler-tourists will spearhead the regeneration of the down-at-heel resort, and is supporting the scheme. King Sturge's Vale predicts that other declining coastal resorts, such as Margate, could also benefit from casino emporiums.
The revised gambling laws are unlikely to come into effect for two years, but the government is already relaxing restrictions on new casinos. In the past year, LCI has won licences to build mini-casinos in Brighton, Northampton and Manchester. LCI is also refurbishing two of its London clubs later this year.
Grosvenor Casinos is on site with three new-build projects worth up to £30m each. Gary Dooley, Grosvenor's property development director, says the company uses "tried and tested" main contractors on a standard JCT, QS-led contract. But he says the operator is always interested in hearing from new contractors who can prove that their work is always finished on time.
Designing and fitting out a casino raises special problems. Air-conditioning is paramount, as the venues are often in stuffy basements, and back-up systems are essential. Extensive back-office space is required for CCTV systems, cash handling and chip storage.
At Gala's new 1115 m2 underground casino in London's Piccadilly, designed by Kiran Curtis Architects and contractor Beck Interiors, half of the floor space was dedicated to back offices and air-handling plant.
Casinos are catching up with design trends as operators abandon the plush-velvet-and-mirrors look for contemporary styling. Kiran Curtis' design features modern furniture and fittings and a structural glass staircase.
Curtis says there is no longer a set way of designing casinos: "You have to get out and interview staff about what they need from the building. We had no previous experience in this field – it didn't hold us back."
Construction will have to wait a couple of years while Sir Alan Budd's recommendations go out to public consultation before a casino windfall comes its way, but as Curtis says:
The stakes are high – major players to get to knowLondon Clubs International
LCI got its fingers burned recently when it tried to set up a casino in Las Vegas, on which it lost a fortune. Best known for its five stately casinos in London, the operator is now trying to move into mass-market gambling with its new-look casino Golden Nugget – also based in the capital – and a similar outlet in Southend-on-Sea. Further casinos are planned for Northampton, Brighton and Manchester to be designed by Birmingham-based architect Tibbatts Associates, London firm John Bennett Associates and AGP Architects respectively. Only the Brighton-based casino so far has a contractor: WFC. For other projects LCI is looking for experienced contractors to work on JCT contracts. Stanley Leisure
Owner of 31 casinos and more than 600 bookmakers, Stanley lost more than £3m this year to a run of luck by high rollers at its Mayfair club. It also lost an estimated £20m after 221 race meetings were cancelled as a result of bad weather and foot-and-mouth. The company also spent more than £4m setting up an offshore operation in Malta – but dismantled it after the UK government announced its intention to relax betting laws. The company is developing open-plan “Cascades” casinos in Leith in Edinburgh and in Margate. and is tendering for a casino project in Manchester. Gala
Britain’s biggest bingo operator with more than 170 halls bought Ladbrokes Casinos last year, giving it 22% of the UK’s casino market. Last month it put Maxims, its upmarket London casino, up for sale saying the outlet did not fit with its “high-volume, low ticket price” strategy. John Kelly, group chief executive, has voiced his enthusiasm for destination gambling venues, but the group is not keen to discuss any detailed expansion plans. Grosvenor Casinos
Part of Rank, which owns Mecca bingo, the operator owns four swish casinos in London and 26 around the country. Grosvenor is presently on site with three new-build programmes in Blackpool, Brighton and Birmingham with fit-out costs of about £2.5m. The largest, at 18,000 ft2, opened in Blackpool this month. The first of its new Hard Rock casino outlets at Manchester’s Printworks leisure centre is about to go out to tender. Grosvenor will consider fit-out contractors with no casino experience but they must be able to prove that their jobs always finish on time.