TOWNS and cities bidding to open a giant casino will be "haunted" by the poverty, homelessness and violence they bring according to an expert consultant.

Swindon Council is locked in a race to land a licence for a new-style casino boasting up to 80 slot machines and £4,000 jackpots.

The town is one of 41 local authorities in the running for one of 16 new casinos to be licensed nationally.

But casinos can send local businesses to the wall, while failing to put the jobless back to work, economic regeneration consultants have said.

Paul Buchanan, of Hall Aitken consultants which examined the likely impact, told a 60-strong meeting in Westminster: "This is a decision that will come back to haunt them."

The consultants' report focuses mainly on the effects of a so-called "regional" casino, only one of which will be built, probably in Blackpool or London. But eight licences are also on offer for a "large" casino, with up to 150 gaming machines, and a further eight licences for a "small" casino, with a maximum of 80.

Swindon has applied to the Government for the small option, although such an establishment would be bigger than most of Britain's existing 125 casinos, allowed under a 1968 Act, Hall Aitken said.

The Government believed casinos could help it achieve "neighbourhood renewal", tackling unemployment and social deprivation, Mr Buchanan told the conference.

But, he added, "There are doubts about whether jobs being created are suitable for the unemployed, who find it very hard to get work.

"Casinos are also a significant factor in homelessness and have been linked to more debt, drugs and domestic violence.

"Poor people spend more on gambling. They are more likely to be tempted by the increased opportunities.

" The effects will fuel the desperation of deprived communities."

The one-day conference was organised by the Conservatives, who are highly critical of the rush to build a new wave of casinos.

The applications will be whittled down to a shortlist by next month, with the selected proposals then going forward for more detailed examination by an advisory panel.

The Adver revealed Swindon's application earlier this month.

Swindon Council's deputy leader and cabinet member for regenerat-ion Coun Roderick Bluh yesterday played down the plans.

He told the Adver: "We put in an expression of interest. We only did this because the door was closing.

"We have not had council debate on this yet. On a personal basis I would have hesitations going along that road.

"If you are talking about something which is up market and allows the rich to throw away their money, then that is one thing.

"But something that would be problem for people who cannot really afford to gamble is something entirely different.

"My personal feeling is that it is going to be quite difficult."

Coun Nick Martin (Con, Shaw and Nine Elms) said: "I am not against gambling in general because with things like horse racing and the lottery, people know the odds, but casinos, while they treat you very nicely, it is not easy to win and they are there to take your money.

"I believe a casino would cause homelessness, poverty and violence, and you just need to look back at history to see how many people have lost their fortunes in the casinos."