CONTROVERSIAL plans to turn Blackpool into the Las Vegas of Britain could be shaped by the public as council bosses canvas public opinion on the scheme.

The Blackpool Challenge Partnership has already endorsed the casino plans but has now set up a working party to gauge what the people of the town think of Leisure Parcs' plans to build gambling establishments along the Golden Mile.

Chief executive of Blackpool Borough Council, Graham Essex-Crosby, is to lead the group which says it will consult a large cross-section of the public.

"Our pen is poised and we want to find out exactly what people think of these plans -- what they hope it might mean to the town and, perhaps more importantly, what worries if any they have," he said.

Blackpool businessman and member of the Federation of Small Businesses, Steve Black, said he was delighted the council was turning to the public for their opinions.

"The most important thing is to assure that if these changes do go ahead there will be money for the community forever," he said.

"As regards small business -- if businesses know what the changes are going to be they will have time to adapt and plan." But one Blackpool hotelier fears the consultation is all a big PR exercise. Dennis Smith, owner of the Abbey Hotel, Palatine Road, Blackpool, thinks the public are being misled about the project and says he will let the Challenge Partnership (BCP) know all about his concerns during the consultation.

"The problem is that everyone is being led to believe that the whole thing is going to be like Las Vegas," he said.

"But the model for the project is Atlantic City, a place which is described on the internet as 'Used to be a slum by the seaside, now it is a slum by the seaside with casinos'.

"We should be looking at the BCP to help the small businesses of Blackpool make the transition to this new Blackpool."

Marc Etches, managing director at Leisure Parcs and one of the directors of the BCP, said he was delighted with the consultation move.

"I think it's absolutely right and, as I have consistently said, the local community need to debate and discuss the issues.

"We must learn by the experience of other communities around the world that have taken on gaming as a tool of regeneration such as Biloxi, Southern Mississippi."

The Federation of Small Businesses is holding a meeting to be attended by council leader George Bancroft and chief executive Graham Essex-Crosby on January 29 at the Norbreck Hotel starting at 7pm.