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Approval for Las Vegas-style casino

A Las Vegas-style casino, betting and leisure complex complete with horse and greyhound tracks and a chapel has been given the green light by planners.

The €460m Tipperary Venue, near Two-Mile Borris, will have a 500-bed hotel - the largest in Ireland - a health spa and swimming pool, an equestrian centre and an 18-hole golf course.

But plans for a money-spinning 15,000-capacity concert hall have been rejected, with An Bord Pleanala warning it was inappropriate considering the rural location.

The idea is being driven by Richard Quirke, owner of the Dr Quirkey's amusement arcade in Dublin's O'Connell Street, and local Independent TD Michael Lowry.

The Tipperary deputy said the planning decision would help unleash the enormous potential of the site.

"In the context of stated Government policy to encourage creativity and job creation, this is a timely opportunity to progress an original plan which will generate enormous economic activity and create thousands of sustainable jobs," he said.

"A combination of a broad range of interactive projects on the one site will transform the economic, cultural and social life of Tipperary and the entire region."

Mr Lowry insisted the finance was in place and the entire development would go ahead.

Renowned racehorse trainer Aidan O'Brien backs the plan and suggested it would eventually be a rival to host the United States' multimillion-dollar Breeders' Cup fixture.

The 800-acre development is opposed by An Taisce, a handful of local residents and anti-gambling bodies including the Ireland Against Casinos group, which fought a development on the old Phoenix Park racecourse.

A spokesman for Gamblers Anonymous said: "As an organisation, we are not happy with this development. We are extremely disappointed with this development in the main because of the huge upsurge in young people taking up gambling."

The support group warned that young people were particularly susceptible to becoming addicted to slot machines and internet betting, and the number seeking help has almost doubled.

The spokesman added: "Ten years ago the average Gamblers Anonymous meeting would have been somewhere in the region of 14, now that average is 26."

The Tipperary Venue site, 9km from Thurles, is being planned in true Las Vegas style with a church with an 18m-high steeple and a replica of the White House, known as the Hoban Memorial Building in honour of architect James Hoban. It will include a reproduction of Lafayette Park, the grounds at the front of the US President's residence.

The sports and gaming facilities will include all-weather horse racing and greyhound tracks, and a 6,000 square metre casino in the hotel.

The overall plan is subject to 32 conditions and will also depend on reform of gaming laws.

An Taisce said An Bord Pleanala should have refused the entire development on the same basis that the concert hall was rejected - that poor public transport links mean visitors would largely depend on cars to get there.

Charles Stanley-Smith, chairman of the environmental charity, said: "Once more this is evidence of short-term expediency and developer-led planning overriding national and regional guidelines."

The eight-storey hotel, four times the size of its nearest biggest rival, The Burlington in Dublin, will house the huge casino, two ballrooms, four restaurants, two bars, conference and meeting rooms and six shops.

Outside there will be a heliport big enough for four aircraft to land, shops, conference facilities and parking for more than 6,000 cars, buses, horse and greyhound boxes.

According to An Bord Pleanala, the huge development will include diversion and culverting of parts of the Derheen and Clover rivers and a new four-arm roundabout on the R639 and link road to the M8 motorway at Two-Mile Borris.

It is understood Mr Quirke has instructed architects to push ahead with drawings for the first section of development, while Mr Lowry insisted €30m of groundworks will get under way.

Planners said the music venue could not be allowed because of the rural location, and that it was unsustainable to have cars as the primary mode of transport in the area. They said the concert hall would be better off in a large town.

The development was backed by Joe Hernon of Coolmore Stud, Austin Broderick of Thurles Chamber, Damian McDonald of Horse Sport Ireland, Brian Keating of Shannon Development and Adrian Neilan of Irish Greyhound Board.

The Department of Justice launched a review of gaming laws last December in what was seen as an attempt to tap into the huge online betting market.

It also noted the prospects for a resort casino and the huge employment boost it could bring but warned that new laws were needed and it would not get any special support from the State.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Alan Shatter insisted reform of betting laws and rules on casinos would take into account all forms of gambling, including the growth of online.

"Any legislative proposals arising from the Minister's examination and subsequent discussions at Cabinet will follow in the normal course," she said.

"No decision will be made solely focusing on the promotion of an individual project."

© Press Association