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Sunday 18 February 2018

Super casino plan in ruins as Shatter lays down new law

Tom Brady, Paul Melia and Conor Kane

The backers of a proposed Las Vegas-style casino in a Co Tipperary village have been forced back to the drawing board after their ambitious plans for a massive resort were shot down by Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Mr Shatter said yesterday that the proposed €460m casino at Two-Mile-Borris would not be allowed to go ahead under new legislation being drafted for the gaming and betting industry.

Instead, the law would provide for "modest sized" casinos around the country.

Mr Shatter, who hopes to present a full draft of the legislation to the Government in the spring, also ruled out the provision of 21st-century slot machines with fixed returns for the providers.

He said the Government was satisfied that its prohibition was in the public interest.

Last June, An Bord Pleanala granted permission for the complex, which would have included a 6,000 sqm casino covering almost 1.5 acres, turf and all-weather racecourses, a golf course, a 500-bed hotel, a greyhound track, a replica of the White House and a heliport. It would have been the biggest casino in Europe.

The project was opposed by some local residents and An Taisce, but won support from Coolmore Stud, Horse Racing Ireland, Bord na gCon, Shannon Development, the Thurles Chamber of Commerce and Independent TD for Tipperary, Michael Lowry.

But last night it emerged that former garda and promoter of the Tipperary complex, Richard Quirke, has been conducting a review of the project to see what elements could be built if a casino was not approved.

Mr Lowry, who has been involved from the outset, told the Irish Independent that a decision on the project would be made in the next two months.

"The site is multi-purpose and that still stands," he said. "In the event of it not getting a (casino) licence, we've looked at what elements are standalone and viable.

"That started two months ago and will be completed in five or six weeks."

The developers are to seek permission within the next week for an equestrian centre on the site and will then meet with Justice Department officials to clarify what size casino would be allowed.

A spokeswoman for Mr Quirke said he and his team would assess Mr Shatter's statement. It was too early to state if a new planning application would be submitted for a smaller, reduced casino, she added.

The Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland, which represents "private member gaming clubs with casino-style services", welcomed the legislation.

Director David Hickson said his association had been lobbying for the past six years for the legislation to be updated.

He said the concept of a resort-style casino was not viable in the Irish market, particularly since the Celtic Tiger era was dead and buried, and he favoured smaller, regional casinos in areas like Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Drogheda.

Ruling out the Two-Mile Borris proposal, Mr Shatter said that while the Government accepted such developments would bring benefits during construction and in operation, it was concerned they were so large that they could attract other activities that were not desirable and posed a risk to vulnerable people.

"It therefore concluded that, on balance, the social impact was likely to be negative", he added.

Irish Independent

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