IT IS THE controversial new gamblers’ paradise that will underpin one of the biggest developments in Southampton for decades.

Today the Daily Echo can exclusively reveal that super casino firm Aspers will bid to become part of the £330million plans for the Royal Pier site.

The firm, which runs the only two super casinos in the UK, is drawing up a multi-million pound licensing bid for a new branch which could create hundreds of jobs and be the cornerstone for the entire Royal Pier development.

Civic chiefs have welcomed it as more good news for the project, after it was announced last year that bosses at Associated British Ports (ABP), which owns some of the land, have voted to back the current proposals.

Several plans to for redevelopment at the derelict Royal Pier site have come and gone over the past decade.

Discussions over the latest scheme – which also features a luxury hotel, marina, restaurants, bars and flats – are ongoing between developer Morgan Sindall Investments Limited, and landowners Southampton City Council, the Crown Estate and ABP.

It is hoped a planning application – with a super casino at its centre – will be handed in later this year, and that construction work could even begin next year.

The city council is one of only eight authorities in the country with the right to hand out a “large casino” licence.

The licence would allow an operator to build a casino housing up to 150 slot machines with jackpots of up to £4,000, and up to 30 tables for blackjack and poker.

Regular casinos have a limit of 20 slot machines.

Aspers first admitted its interest in Royal Pier to the Daily Echo in 2012, but now chiefs at the firm have confirmed they will bid for the right to run the casino.

Aspers’ chief operating officer, Richard Noble, said: “Although it is still in early stages, I can confirm that Aspers has a strong interest in the plans for the Royal Pier development in Southampton.

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“We have been monitoring this redevelopment opportunity for several years and believe that the modern leisure facilities and the socially responsible gaming commitment we deliver to local communities would be a great fit for the Southampton area.

“We are very proud to have delivered the only two operational large licence casinos in the UK and feel that our track record of delivering exceptional venues, creating local jobs and supporting community initiatives shows exactly what we could deliver for Southampton.”

While the company says there is currently no firm estimate on the economic boom it could bring to the city, its casino in Stratford, London – the biggest in the country – rakes in more than £1million a year for Newham Council from takings and employs 560 people.

It is open 24 hours a day, 364 days a year, and welcomes more than 25,000 people through its doors each week.

And its second super casino, which opened in Milton Keynes last September, has created 250 jobs.

They are currently the only two casinos of their size in the entire country.

And while the casinos also allow gamblers to play classic games such as roulette, poker and slot machines, they also contain restaurants and bars, which would fit in alongside the other leisure elements of Royal Pier.

It is believed Southampton’s proposed casino would be more similar in scale to the 36,500sq ft Milton Keynes complex than the 65,000sq ft Stratford site.

But there is still a long way to go before a super casino in Southampton becomes a reality.

The council must first formally begin the process to start a competition to run the casino, which could feature rival bids from other casino operators.

The competition will only be formally launched once planning permission has been granted for a venue for the casino at Royal Pier.

Welcoming the news as “excellent”, city council leader Simon Letts said: “I’m pleased that a major company like Aspers is willing to spend money in Southampton.

“When the competition opens we will welcome bids from as many organisations as wish to bid.

“In the current economic climate, any additional funds that may be used to protect council services are to be welcomed.”

He added that the council may only be able to announce a winning casino firm in three to five years’ time.

Stewart Dunn, Chief Executive of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce said: “The chamber has always supported the application for a casino as part of a strategic and much needed development to open up the waterfront and provide permanent facilities for the PSP Southampton Boat Show.

“This could bring further investment and importantly jobs to the area as well as enhance the waterfront.

“However, it is important that full consultation with the port authorities and residents is undertaken to understand and meet their concerns.

“The chamber will offer to work with Southampton City Council to address some of these issues, particularly transport, planning and infrastructure.”