A casino in Jersey? We had the chance to place that bet at least twice

In the 1960s a company from London put a proposal to the States that they would take a 99-year lease on the Fort and build a luxury hotel and casino/restaurant on the site

nThe UK introduced the Betting and Gaming Act in 1961
nThe UK introduced the Betting and Gaming Act in 1961

Comment from Ted Vibert

I RECENTLY had a bet with a friend that when members of the public were asked what they would like to see on the Waterfront someone would suggest that we should have a casino there.

I was surprised that no member of the public did suggest that. But a Member of the States of Jersey did – none other than a member of the Council of Ministers, Deputy Susie Pinel, who is in charge of all our money.

She publicly supported a casino either on the Waterfront or in a re-vamped Fort Regent when speaking at the recently held ‘Ask the Ministers’ event. Questioned about the future of Fort Regent she said: ‘I have thought, bearing in mind I’m a Jersey girl, I would like to see a casino over here.’

Some of us recall two notable attempts in the past to get a casino established in the Island.

The first occurred in the early 1960s when the tourist industry was riding high. At the time Fort Regent was a sorry mess. It was just an open site and the main parade ground was a dump for the Island’s coal. Cars were abandoned there together with all types of rubbish.

A company from London involved in hotel and casino development – the Burley Group – put a proposal to the States that they would take a 99-year lease on the Fort and build a luxury hotel and casino/restaurant on the site. At the end of the lease the whole project would belong to the States.

At the time I was involved in the tourism promotion industry and Jersey was one of my clients and we pushed really hard for the scheme. When it went to the States, it was defeated by just one vote.

Casinos were illegal in the UK at the time but there was a proliferation of them on the continent, and in the battle for tourists it would have put Jersey one giant leap in front of any UK resort, enhancing our continental atmosphere had the States approved it. But it was not to be.

And so on to the next opportunity – in the 70s when West Park Pavilion was up for sale after ballroom dancing had given way to the gyrations of Elvis and the antics of Bill Haley and his Comets.

By this time casinos had been legalised in the UK and more and more were opening. A group of local businessmen wanted to buy West Park Pavilion and carry out a major rebuild and turn it into a casino but the States Members made it clear that such a move would not be welcome. The second missed opportunity.

It would have been an ideal site overlooking St Aubin’s Bay and would have created just the right kind of romantic and picturesque atmosphere that is important in making a casino work well (as seen in James Bond movies).

Had a casino been approved for Fort Regent in the 60s or West Park in the 70s they would have been seen as an important addition to our facilities to provide visitors with a social activity not available to them at home.

However, all that changed in 1961 when the UK introduced the Betting and Gaming Act and the first casino – the Clermont Club – opened in 1962.

Casinos in the UK are now two-a-penny with over 140 licensed casinos in the UK, with 25 located in London. Many of them in country towns are part of a hotel with several roulette tables and ten to 15 gaming machines and are just small gambling clubs.

But the largest is the Hippodrome Casino which is a conversion of the old Hippodrome Theatre in the West End and which covers six floors with a night club, restaurants and three casino areas.

The Isle of Man has its casino on the first floor of the Best Western Palace Hotel on the sea-front of Douglas, the island’s capital. It’s a small operation with five tables and 30 gaming machines.

I’ve been very lucky in my life by being involved in visiting many casinos around the world in a professional capacity. I know from that experience that casino operators go to great lengths to make an evening at their casino an exciting and memorable experience.

This can be achieved by the magnificent opulence of the building as can be seen in Monte Carlo, or the quiet and sophisticated charm of Baden Baden, which nestles at the foot of the Black Forest in south Germany or the night club atmosphere of Sun City in South Africa, and its fake earthquake and shaking buildings or the raucous excitement of the Two-Up Casino in Sydney. That is what is needed to combat all the on-line casinos now available to anyone who just wants to gamble and can do it from their sofa at home

It’s just too late Jersey. We missed the boat. Let’s move on.

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