PRESCOTT AND CASINOS: THE SMELL GROWS; Questions Mount over Deputy PM's Links to American Gambling Tycoon

Article excerpt

Byline: JANE MERRICK;BENEDICT BROGAN

JOHN Prescott faced damaging new questions last night over his links with an American gambling boss.

They came after gambling industry insiders said the Deputy Prime Minister had been 'the driving force' behind plans for a wave of supercasinos across Britain.

The sources rejected his claims that he had no role in the controversial policy.

The revelations cast a dramatic new light on Mr Prescott's stay at the U.S.

ranch of Philip Anschutz, the tycoon who bought the Millennium Dome and wants to build a super-casino there.

The pressure on Mr Prescott intensified as it emerged that: * He met Mr Anschutz seven times to discuss regeneration of the Dome; * He visited a giant casino in Australia at the height of the row over the Gambling Bill in 2004; * Cabinet ministers are worried he is 'losing it'.

There was also renewed speculation about Mr Prescott's private life after Internet sites named another two women they said had been his mistresses. The developments raised fresh doubts over Mr Prescott's ability to hang on to his job, with fellow ministers already concerned that continuing fallout from his affair with diary secretary Tracey Temple is damaging the Government.

It also emerged yesterday that Blairite PR guru Matthew Freud played a pivotal role in getting Mr Anschutz access to Ministers.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has said she discussed casinos with him at a dinner hosted by Mr Freud.

There was even speculation at Westminster that Mr Prescott is in the mood to walk out before Mr Blair leaves Downing Street, Street, triggering mayhem at the top of the Labour party.

Despite the furore, the BBC failed to report the story on any major bulletin until the Six O'Clock news. It recalled the corporation's non-coverage of the Tracey Temple affair - when it was accused of burying the story to spare Mr Prescott's blushes.

The Deputy Premier is already facing inquiries by Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Sir Philip Mawer and Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell over his twonight stay at Mr Anschutz's Colorado estate last July.

He did not declare the hospitality in the Commons Register of Members' Interests.

and has said no conflict of interests was involved because he had no role in policy on casinos. Sports Minister Richard Caborn - a close friend of Mr Prescott - also told the Commons the Deputy Prime Minister had 'no role' in casino planning or policy.

But gambling insiders told the Daily Mail Mr Prescott was closely involved in the push to promote gambling.

A source involved in lobbying the Government on behalf of a major gambling firm in the run-up to the 2004 Gambling Bill said Mr Prescott originally wanted a huge casino in every major city - including Labour's northern heartlands.

The insider said he used Mr Caborn, a minister in Miss Jowell's department, to help push the legislation through.

He said: 'The association of Tessa Jowell and casinos is misleading. …