There has been a mixed response to news that a £6 million casino will open at the Park Inn Palace Hotel in September.
The 24-hour Grosvenor Casino and Mecca bingo hall will be Southend’s third casino, adding to the Genting Club and Rendezvous casinos that have been established for many years.
Visitors to the Southend Rising website asked whether there was enough demand for three casinos in the borough? There has been speculation that only two out of the three can survive.
The people behind the Grosvenor Casino will have done their research and their sums though.
It’s perhaps true that Southend’s residents and typical day-trippers will not contribute enough to sustain three casinos, but there is another, potentially colossal, market emerging just 35 miles away.
In May, a £1 billion deal was struck to create a vast Chinese business park in London’s Royal Docks. The site – already being likened to a mini Asian city - will provide a European headquarters for hundreds of Chinese companies, bring tens of thousands of jobs to the area and generate billions of pounds for the UK economy.
Could Southend benefit from some of this investment? Of course, the majority of the money will go to London or return to China, but is it unreasonable to suggest that some of new, skilled and wealthy Chinese workers will want to visit, or perhaps live, in Southend?
Southend already has a large Chinese community, Southend Airport offers convenient access to numerous European business cities, the coast is a bonus that not even London can offer, and there are now three casinos.
If you think it’s a trivial or unfair stereotype that many Chinese people like to gamble, consider this: last year in Macau (a tiny special administrative region of China) some $38 billion was taken by the casinos. That is six times the amount spent in Las Vegas.
Billions more were spent at the hotels, restaurants, luxury goods shops and other businesses that have sprung up around Macau to service the extraordinary gambling industry.
Yes, London has plenty of casinos, but just imagine what Southend could do with a miniscule fraction of that revenue. How many jobs could be created? How many new hotels, restaurants and leisure activities would open? How much money could be invested to improve local transport and infrastructure? How many quality new shops could we see (Macau's casinos attract Gucci, Prada and Louise Vuitton, rather than Poundland and Cash Converters).
Some will scoff at the idea of major Chinese investment in Southend, and the Nimbys will scream their usual negative nonsense, but let’s be ambitious.
Let’s work with the local Chinese community and reach out to the new arrivals in East London. We all know that Southend needs a lick of paint here and there, but there is so much to attract people who have serious money to invest.