BLACKPOOL will 'continue to decline' unless multi-million pound casino developments are built in the resort, a town hall chief claims.

Reg Haslam, head of New Horizons, which is heading the £1.4 billion Masterplan, welcomed the news that the increasingly controversial gaming bill, published on Tuesday, will go before Parliament shortly.

But he called on regional planning bodies to ensure that the north west's share of the biggest casinos helps to regenerate Blackpool.

"The Government has clearly devolved responsibility for preparing development guidance on casinos firmly into the hands of the regional planning bodies," said Mr Haslam.

"Blackpool has presented the region with a clear vision of a new Blackpool as a 21st century world class resort.

"We now need the help of the North West Regional Planning Body and the Northwest Development Agency to make our vision a reality.

"If they support Blackpool we are confident we will succeed. However, if they let market forces decide where casinos go, then that in effect is a decision to allow Blackpool to continue to decline.

Mr Haslam added: "Our plans meet the Government's primary aims of protecting the vulnerable and bringing about regeneration.

"By putting regional casinos in Blackpool most people will not have gambling on their doorstep, but we will transform the economy of Blackpool and bring clear benefits to the wider North West region."

But Mr Haslam's comments have come under fire from casino opponents, who are increasingly confident that the Government will be defeated or forced to withdraw controversial aspects of the new bill.

"Blackpool will continue to decline until we get rid of people like Reg Haslam and this obsession with gambling," said Cllr Steven Bate of the Coalition against Gambling Expansion: "The fact that they haven't even started to look at a plan B is a disgrace.

"All the indications I am getting tell me that none of the major US companies are interested in coming here unless they have no choice."

And Cllr Bate claims that opposition from members of all three main parties - including former Labour minister, Frank Field - will contribute to the demise of the casino hopes.

The bill is also facing an increasingly hostile media reaction, with a wide range of newspapers, from the Guardian to the Times and the Sun, criticising the bill.

The Daily Mail has launched a 'kill the casinos' campaign and several newspapers have highlighted an NOP poll for the Culture Department which showed widespread opposition to new gambling opportunities.

"I really think the bill is dead," added Cllr Bate.