Why a gambling licence can’t lead to casino at the Palace

by CLLR MATT COOKE You carried a story recently in your Broadway edition regarding the forthcoming hearing by the Haringey licensing committee, of an application by the Alexandra Palace s Trading Company for a track betting license. Your story contained a number of inaccuracies. I have subsequentl

You carried a story recently regarding the forthcoming hearing by the Haringey licensing committee, of an application by the Alexandra Palace's Trading Company for a track betting license.

Your story contained a number of inaccuracies. I have subsequently received a few letters from understandably concerned members of the public raising similar concerns based on the same misconceptions, which leads me to believe they may come from the same 'source': a local, single-issue pressure group.

The application we have made is for a 'permanent' licence because to continually re-apply year on year would be much more costly. However, in recognition of the concerns raised, we amended the application some time ago so that it is only valid for the duration of the World Darts Tournament.

Thus, whilst we will, if granted, have a licence that is able to be used each year for this tournament, it does not permit use of this licence at any other time.

I should point out that legitimate, legal gambling of one sort or another has been a feature of Alexandra Palace for many many years. The racetrack at the Palace operated from June 1868 until September 1970 (102 years) and it was always possible to bet on the horses there.

In fact, the local pub at the bottom of Muswell Hill, the Victoria Stakes, is named after that pastime, which successive generations of residents of Haringey and beyond enjoyed.

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In terms of the Palace itself and this particular application, you may be interested to know that a condition of the license is that the betting itself must - under the law - take place in a room separate from 'the main event'. Anyone who wanted to attend an event which also happened to have a betting facility alongside the event itself, could do so without ever coming into contact with that facility.

In the end this comes down to choice; and I think our aspiration should be to offer those wanting to come and experience events here to be able to chose what they partake in, and that's an important principle in a borough as fantastically diverse as our own.

I also want to be clear that we do take the concerns about gambling at the Palace very seriously.

Many people agree with me that a casino, for example, would be totally inappropriate at the Palace. That's why the council cabinet decided back in March 2006 that there could not be a casino in Haringey and a decision was made specifically not to apply to the government for a licence for one to exist at the Palace, nor for that matter anywhere else within the borough.

I do hope that you see the difference between a casino - a venue existing purely for gambling - and a track licence, which allows for a betting facility to be run alongside certain sporting events, and located in a separate venue within the Palace to that main event.

They are very different entities and in this case there is no way that one can lead to the other, nor can a licence for one be converted into a licence for the other although Mr Clive Carter, writing regularly in your paper, continues to peddle this particular myth despite the factual position which is laid out before him.

I am entirely committed to a future where we can debate the Trust's plans for an exciting and sustainable way forward for this magnificent building in a reasoned and informed way.

I do believe that part of the motivation behind the 'Save Ally Pally' campaign's sophistic rhetoric regarding this licence, sadly, is another example of where campaigners with a single interest in the Palace have manipulated the facts in order to make a number of their arguments appear legitimate.

In so doing they have attempted to stir public opinion; clearly this is not good for reasoned debate around the future of the Palace.

The Palace needs very, very significant investment to bring the building back into full use and the Trust continues to explore how this might be achieved.

In the coming months we will also look at how we might improve our governance, bring more co-opted experts onto our Trust Board, and how we might better inform local residents across the borough of the exciting range of events which are held here and more generally communicate the facts about what we do.

Matt Cooke is Chair of the Trustees, Alexandra Palace