GAMBLING firms will soon compete to run a huge, Las Vegas-style casino on Southampton’s waterfront.

The casino is seen as the ‘cornerstone’ of the long-awaited Royal Pier development, which council chiefs hope will reconnect Southampton’s waterfront and city centre and bring thousands of new jobs with it.

After councillors agreed the process by which companies can bid to run the casino applications will be welcomed from April and assessed from August onwards.

However, the process of picking a preferred bidder may take up to 18 months, with an advisory panel of experts set to help the city council’s licensing committee in deciding which firm will run the site.

The council was one of eight authorities given a licence to build a super-size casino by the Labour government in 2008.

The licence allows operators to build casinos housing 150 slot machines with jackpots of up to £4,000 and 30 blackjack and poker tables.

More than a dozen companies have already contacted the council about running it, including Aspers, which opened the country’s first super-casino in Stratford, London, last year.

The preferred location for the casino is the waterfront site at Royal Pier and council chiefs see it as key to the success of the whole £450 million development, which could eventually feature at least two hotels, restaurants, luxury flats and an indoor arena. Kuti’s restaurant would not be affected by any development.

The council’s Cabinet member for resources, Simon Letts, thinks the casino could bring in £1m each year for the authority when it is up and running and provide a huge boost to the local economy.

He said: “The casino is the cornerstone of the development and 3,000 jobs could come with it all.

“For the first time in Southampton’s recent history we are reconnecting the waterfront to the city centre.

“It will become an area that people will come to for the weekend – they will take in a show at The Mayflower Theatre, have a night at the casino, stay in a hotel and shop in the city centre.

“That’s part of the vision we’re talking about.”