Nelson McCausland says casino ban will not be removed
Casinos will remain banned in Northern Ireland under legislation due to go before the assembly next year, the social development minister has said.
Nelson McCausland was dismissive of a plan by the Rank Group for a casino in Belfast, after they briefed city councillors on Tuesday evening.
The minister said Rank had not been in contact with his department.
He added that the group did not make a submission to a lengthy review of local gambling laws last year.
"I'm not quite sure what their thinking is, but it was surprising that they didn't contribute to the discussion," Mr McCausland said.
"It's a bit late now in the day to come along because we are about to take a package of proposals to the executive and to the assembly and I want to go to the assembly with the changes in the gambling legislation next year."
Alderman Tom Ekin, who is the chairman of the council's licensing committee, said councillors were slightly apprehensive about the possibility of "problem gambling".
"We were looking for more information and more information will be provided over time.
"At the moment, in principle, we were neither for it nor against it.
"We were just saying, 'you have told us your story, we are suitably sceptical'."
Mr Ekin said there were probably more dangers arising from "opportunities to gamble from home and on television."
"That is more dangerous than a well-run casino that has got the variety of things that were referred to such as restaurants, bowling alleys, bars, theatres and so on.
The proposal for Northern Ireland's first casino was outlined to parties on Belfast City Council.
It has been asked to back the proposal from the Rank Group, which operates 55 casinos in Britain, although it would require a change in the law.
Casinos are illegal in Northern Ireland but the firm has produced a "prototype model specifically for Belfast".
A "strictly regulated and monitored gaming operation" would anchor the venue.
The plan would also involve a cinema and restaurants.
A council development site at the north foreshore of Belfast Lough has been mentioned as one possible location.
Rank briefed members of the council's development committee on Tuesday evening.
In a statement, it said it wanted to determine whether "there is an appetite for a change in legislation".
The company said 200 jobs could be created.
Legislation to update gambling laws in Northern Ireland is due to go before the assembly next year.
But the Department of Social Development has previously ruled out allowing casinos.
"It is not something the minister (DUP assembly member Nelson McCausland) was prepared to move towards," an official told a Stormont committee in February 2013.
Rank runs its casinos in Great Britain through a subsidiary, Grosvenor Casinos, and also operates bingo venues.
According to its website, it generates annual revenues of £625m.
One of its board members is Richard Needham, a former Northern Ireland Office minister.