Public to have their say on move to create £300m casino complex in Belfast
Belfast City Council is carrying out a public consultation into building a major casino complex here - worth up to £300m.
The council is asking for responses to revamping licensing laws and is also gauging interest in bringing a major gambling development to the city.
It's understood two leading operators have already been in discussions with political and business representatives about constructing a hotel, restaurant, bar, water park and casino.
Industry giant Rank has already shown an interest in building a £200m development.
Consultation documents state: "There has been interest shown by international investors in developing an entertainment and casino complex in Belfast."
It follows an earlier motion by councillor Jim McVeigh, who said a modernised licensing system and the development of an "entertainment and casino complex" would provide "stimulus and support to the tourism sector and city's economy, with a potential investment of £150m and the creation of 900 new jobs".
However, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the Sinn Fein councillor said that potential value could be £300m, creating up to 1,000 jobs.
Northern Ireland's current gambling laws do not permit casinos to be developed here.
However, the issue is due to be raised at tonight's strategic policy and resources committee meeting.
The consultation is expected to begin on December 11, and close on March 5.
But the document states that it "is the role of the NI Assembly to decide on any changes to the law governing both casinos and licensing hours".
It adds: "These are dealt with on a regional basis and fall under the responsibility of the Department for Communities."
The outcome of the public consultation will be presented to the committee for "consideration to determine a corporate position in relation to the development of an entertainment and casino complex and extended licensing hours in Belfast".
Any outcome would then be brought before the Department for Communities.
Mr McVeigh said: "The consultation is to gauge the opinion of the people of Belfast, and people within our tourism and hospitality sector. It's in two halves -one is around flexibility around opening hours, exploring the idea that those areas should be devolved to councils.
"And the other, the entertainment complex, is to gauge the mood of the people in the city.
"£300m and 1,000 jobs. That's our estimate.
"These guys tend to be very serious. They are very keen to get here and keen to do this.
"The size is huge, both financially and physically. The jobs would be very significant.
"I'm not saying this is a super thing and that we would just go ahead - it's to go through the issues. It's to have a sensible debate."
Mr McVeigh said a final decision would be the responsibility of a minister and "would require legislation".
He added: "It's about having a mature debate.
"It's some way off but one thing we can say for sure - there is more than one organisation looking to do this, there are at least two looking to do this.
"They have the money. This is a real proposition.
"This could happen if the government and parties up on The Hill were inclined to do so."
The councillor believes the majority of his colleagues on the council would support the idea.
He said: "There are serious issues to be considered around gambling and we can't sleepwalk into it."