A businessman is bidding to open Preston’s first casino.
A team assembled by Edgar Wallace, owner of the former Fives bar building in Guild Hall Street, is working with the National Casino Industry Forum (NCiF) to win the city a licence for casino gambling.
They are backing a motion currently going through the Commons to make licences portable, meaning that Preston would be able to use the permission currently granted to a town or city that has not been exercised.
If the bid is successful, they hope that a major casino name will open early next year in the two upper levels of the landmark former Preston Conservative Club building.
Graham Parr, agent for Mr Wallace, said: “At the moment you can’t open a casino in Preston because the city doesn’t have a licence.
“There are 40 places, including places like Lytham, that have one, but nobody is interested in opening a casino there.
“So this portability motion is aimed at transferring the licences from these other towns to places where there is interest.”
He added: “We’re hopeful that the portability motion will go through early in the New Year, and in the meantime, we’re organising a case for planning consent, ready for when Preston gets the go-ahead.”
It’s not the first time that the former Fives and 49s building has been earmarked as a haven for the city’s high-rollers.
Previous owner Steve Jackson, the former Preston North End chief executive, held talks about the venture in 2007, but it came to nothing.
Mr Parr added: “Preston needs a casino. It’s a different experience to pubs and clubs – it’s a night out.
“It would be members-only for people aged over 18, and it would be a quality place. You wouldn’t be getting drunk in a casino.”
Coun John Swindells, deputy leader of Preston Council, said he was aware of the bid.
He said: “It’s my understanding that if the licences were made portable, the local authority would have to agree to have one.
“There is no position on that at the moment, because it’s not been on our agenda since about 2006, when the Blair government was awarding licences, and we decided not to go for one.” He added: “My own personal opinion would probably be against the idea.”
Council leader Peter Rankin said he had been for a tour of the old Fives building with Mr Wallace.
He said: “It’s a fabulous building and I personally can’t think of a better use of it.”
Raymond Chung, who opened new Chinese restaurant in the bottom level of the building on Sunday, said the news was exciting.
He said: “It’s exciting for Preston. At the moment people go to Blackpool or Manchester to use casinos, and money is taken out of Preston.
“This would attract people into the city centre, and keep money in the local economy.”
Coun Drew Gale, who represents the Town Centre ward, said he was “tentatively very supportive” of the plans.
Coun Gale also said that if the plans get the go-ahead, he’d like to see local colleges providing qualifications for croupiers.
Hugh Evans of the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “Preston’s Purple Flag status has proven that our night time economy is well managed and that there’s a great range of entertainment on offer, but we can’t rest on our laurels.
The three-storey venue was built in 1878 as the original Preston Conservative Club.
It became the well known Fives and 49s bar and restaurant until it closed in 2006. The basement reopened as the Cocktail Factory in 2007 with Vintage bar and restaurant opening upstairs in 2007, later joined by the Priory. These venues later closed and the building has been unoccupied since August 2011.