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Anschutz may not win shot at casino
Hurt by meetings with Brit official, The Denver mogul's plan for a license in London may lose out to a perceived conflict of interest.
By Tom McGhee, Staff Writer
Denver Post
Thursday, July 20, 2006

A political firestorm in Britain over Denver business mogul Philip Anschutz's meetings with British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott could doom Anschutz's plan for a London casino, Parliament member Malcolm Moss said Wednesday.

Moss is a member of Britain's Conservative party and an adversary of the Labor party government of Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prescott.

Prescott's political enemies have accused him of violating conflict-of-interest rules by meeting with Anschutz at the billionaire's 32,000-acre ranch near Greeley and elsewhere.  But Blair has insisted there is no evidence that Prescott has interfered in the casino-selection process.

Prescott's actions and the ensuing political brawl prompted intense media scrutiny.

"I think this is thoroughly dead.  With all the pressure now, the papers will have a field day because of the links with Prescott, Anschutz and (Anschutz company) AEG," said Moss, a member of the House of Commons who monitors government actions in gambling and tourism for his party.

Anschutz spokesman Jim Monaghan called the row a political "food fight" and said he couldn't comment on Moss' statements.

Prescott, Blair's second-in-command, has denied that the meetings reflected a conflict of interest, saying he had no influence over casino licensing, according to British media.

The British government will grant a permit for only one Las Vegas-style casino, and an independent panel is charged with picking a location.

The Millennium Dome application is one of eight on a shortlist now.  Other applicants have teamed with other developers hoping to build the casino in other locations.

AEG, a Los Angeles-based subsidiary of the Anschutz Corp., has a lease with the British government to build an arena, theaters and restaurants at the Dome on the River Thames.  The company has already begun construction on a sports and entertainment arena.

AEG wants to lease space to Kerzner International, a South African company that plans to build a hotel and casino on the site.  The casino is a central feature of AEG's plan for the $1 billion entertainment project.

If the panel picks the Dome, other applicants will claim that Anschutz's relationship with Prescott influenced the decision, said Moss, adding that the result would be litigation.

Reportedly, Prescott met with Anschutz seven times beginning in August 2002.  He also is reported to have sat in Anschutz's box at the AEG-owned Home Depot Center near Los Angeles, where he watched a soccer game with Tim Leiweke, AEG's chief executive.

"It's accepted that the Prescott affair means Anschutz doesn't have the faintest chance of getting a license," said a representative of a British business organization who asked not to be identified because the group is not involved in the matter.

"From the point of view of the other casino operators, they are cock-a-hoop that this has happened because it means that Anschutz is out," he said, using British slang for "elated."

But officials of the Borough of Greenwich, where the Dome is located, remain optimistic, said Katrina Delaney, the borough's head of communications.

"We haven't been told anything by the government to suggest that the process has been altered.  We put in a bid, we got onto the shortlist, and it's still fingers crossed," Delaney said.

A spokesman for AEG said the company would not pull the plug on the overall project if the casino location was not the Dome, according to the South London Press.  But he did confirm that investment would be "reduced" because phase two of the development, which includes a hotel and theater, is dependent on the casino.

Staff writer Tom McGhee can be reached at 303-820-1671 or tmcghee@denverpost.com.

http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_4071694