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'Worst casino site' claim.

The proposed location of Newcastle's super casino next to deprived West End communities make it the worst place in the country for the licence, a religious group claimed yesterday.

Humphrey Dobson, of the Christian Institute, claimed it could lead to serious gambling problems among poor families.

Mr Dobson pointed to the prospect of 1,250 fruit machines in the casino with unlimited jackpots.

Statistics from the North East Council on Addictions show a majority of their clients cite fruit machines as their main mode of gambling.

"To put 1,250 monster machines, the like that have never been seen before, will cause an explosive problem in Newcastle," said Mr Dobson.

And he said claims that Newcastle has the best treatment programmes for gambling addicts are no reason to licence a casino.

"We wouldn't allow addictive drugs to be given out in pharmacies because we think we've got the best drug rehabilitation," he said.

"I don't wish this dreadful thing on any part of the UK. What I have done today is bring to the panel's attention the particular reasons why I think Newcastle is the worst place to do it."

However, NECA chief executive Cynthia Atkinson insisted her organisation was well placed to deal with any problems that emerge.

NECA will be asking gaming staff to use a new "screening tool" to help identify problem gamblers, she said. Regular customers who cause concern can be given a questionnaire to fill in, which could help show them they have a problem.

The successful operator will be required by Newcastle Council to invest resources in NECA and the City Centre Chaplaincy.

Prof William Cunningham of the Newcastle Quakers said the casino could increase debt problems.

He said: "There's an enormous problem here with door-to-door lending at extortionate rates. I don't think that the council is in a position to do a great deal about that."

Council assistant chief executive Paul Rubinstein responded: "One would hope that one of the answers to debt is in job creation."
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 6, 2006
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