IT may not quite be Las Vegas yet, but Southend is showing signs of becoming an Essex gambling Mecca.

Next year, the town will boast its third casino within two miles on the seafront.

The Grosvenor Casino is set to open at the Park Inn Palace Hotel, in Church Road, by the summer.

It will join the Rendezvous Casino at the Kursaal and the Genting Club in Western Esplanade, Westcliff, in the centre of town.

There has also been talk about a fourth casino – as part of the new complex for Southend United’s planned Fossetts Farm development – but this appears to have been dropped.

But the three casinos, added to numerous betting shops and odd bingo hall in town, shows there is certainly no shortage of places to have a flutter in town.

Martin Terry, leader of the independent group on Southend Council, believes the town’s proximity to the capital, and residents with spare cash, is behind the surge in gambling outlets.

He said: “I think it shows the area is relatively affluent, and that we’re an extension of London in a way.

“People enjoy nights out at casinos. They work hard in London and want to spend their cash locally. There’s been a lot of regeneration in the town. Southend is a more attractive place to come. I know that people use the airport and stop for a night out in town now.

“People will oppose things like a new casino for ideological reasons, like they did with the airport, but that has given us 850 jobs and this creates jobs, too.”

Tom Byrne, 67, a salesman butcher at Smithfield meat market, in London, enjoys an occasional bet and visit to the casino.

Mr Byrne of St Paul’s Road, Canvey, said: “If you bet more than you can afford, then it’s a problem, but if you are sensible then you won’t have any problems.

“I likeaflutter now and then on the football or gee gees, but I don’t spend more than about £20 a week on it at most.

“It’s the thrill of winning that you do it for – it’s the buzz you get.”

However, retired David Williams, 71, of Little Wheatley Chase, Rayleigh, thinks there is a darker side to the gambling industry.

He said: “I’ve got a 25-year-old relative with no money–he’s got payday loans coming out of his ears.

“I wouldn’t want him in front of a casino, looking in thinking that if he can just win it all back like that. It’s not realistic.

“When I was a youngster you couldn’t even advertise betting, now they put signs out in the street, and have special bets – it’s not right.”

Simon Patterson, chairman of Southend Seafront Traders’ Association, and co-owner of Chinnery’s in Marine Parade, is in favour of the new casino.

He said: “People do like going to the casino for a night out and so with another casino opening up it will give a boost to the economy round here and create a couple of hundred jobs.

“It’s another reason for people to come from outside Southend to spend a night or an evening here.

As long as they don’t gamble irresponsibly,I don’t have a problem with it.”

Lib Dem councillor Graham Longley added: “I’ve no problems with the new casino, but I think companies should pay to provide help for problem gamblers, rather than local authorities.”