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€460m gamble for arcade owner as casino approved

THE businessman behind a €460m gambling and racing complex given the green light by planners yesterday has insisted the project will go ahead -- but will not say how it will be funded.

An Bord Pleanala yesterday granted permission for the massive Las Vegas-style casino, racetrack and hotel complex close to the village of Two-Mile Borris, Co Tipperary.

There is no resort casino similar in size and scale to the 'Tipperary Venue' anywhere in Europe.

However, businessman Richard Quirke said that work would now begin securing the 800-acres needed to implement his "vision and ambition".

It is understood he has already has options on or has bought much of the land required.

In a short statement, the businessman welcomed the planning decision and said his architects would also make a new application to North Tipperary County Council for permission to build an indoor arena for equestrian events and a polo field.

Mr Quirke added: "I have instructed my design team and management to proceed to the next appropriate stages of the development."

However, his company would not be drawn on who would finance the project or if it would still go ahead if the Government decided not to grant a casino licence.

Gambling clubs are illegal in Ireland, but up to 50 private members' clubs offer casino games. A consultation paper published last December included a proposal to allow 'resort'-style casinos similar to the 'Tipperary Venue' to be licensed, but the Government has yet to decide if they should be approved.

And government sources said last night there is no desire in the Coalition to amend the legislation to allow for the casino to be set up.

However, the planning appeals board has approved plans to build a 550-bedroom five-star hotel, a 6,000-sqm casino -- the equivalent of almost 1.5 acres -- an all-weather racecourse, golf course, a heliport and greyhound track at the venue. The hotel would be the biggest in the country.

The site is located off the M8 Dublin-Cork motorway, about 11km from Thurles, and plans also include a full-size replica of the White House.

Permission for a 15,000-capacity underground music and entertainment venue was refused because of traffic concerns. Similar-sized projects are only seen in Las Vegas, Macau and Atlantic City, experts said last night.

Plans to build a 'super casino' in the UK were withdrawn in 2008 because of concerns about the negative impact of the project.

An Bord Pleanala's decision was welcomed last night by local independent TD Michael Lowry, who has supported the project from the outset.

"This development unleashes a huge potential for Tipperary in terms of economic activity for the area, (and) in terms of job creation," he said.

"Work will be able to commence in the next three to four months."

The project was approved despite the planning inspector recommending refusal.

In her report An Bord Pleanala inspector Pauline Fitzpatrick said that "no consideration" had been given to the impact the hotel would have on other five-star hotels in the country, that the White House replica could be seen as a "gimmick" and that the decision could "prejudice" a government decision on whether the country needed a casino complex.


Her comments were echoed by the Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland, which represents private members' gambling clubs.

It said the Government had yet to decide if massive gaming projects would be approved and licensed.

"It is pre-emptive," David Hickson, the association's director, told the Irish Independent.

"We are hoping there will be proposals to regulate (the industry) by the autumn and those proposals may or may not include the option of a resort-style casino.

"I suspect when you look at the economic arguments, going from zero to a resort-style casino doesn't make sense to me and politically I don't think it will be that attractive."

North Tipperary County Council granted planning permission for the project last year but the case was appealed to the board by local residents and An Taisce.

Mr Quirke, a former garda from Thurles, is best known for running Dr Quirkey's Good Time Emporium gaming arcade on Dublin's O'Connell Street.

An estimated 1,000 jobs will be created in building the facility and another 2,000 full-time positions once the complex opens.

Irish Independent