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Casino plan displeases King Tut exhibitor
The Denver Business Journal
Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz's The O2 venue in London, which is the redevelopment of the troubled Millennium Dome, may be the victim of a new wrinkle in the curse of King Tut.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, doesn't want his country's "King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" exhibit to show at The O2 starting next year, if the venue has a casino, according to British and Middle Eastern press reports.

he Peninsula, an English-language newspaper in Qatar, recently quoted Hawass as saying, "If there is a casino in the dome, I will not send the exhibits to London.  It's insulting. The Egyptian [artifacts] have dignity, and therefore we should keep this dignity."

Hawass further suggested The O2, if it does build a casino, could open the gaming establishment after the Tut exhibit's run in London.  The Tut exhibit is currently scheduled to show at The O2 for six months, starting in the fall of 2007 and running into '08.

The $1.1 billion O2 is competing with several other British sites for a new, Las Vegas-type "supercasino."  The British government is expected to grant a single license for such a casino in January.

Anschutz's Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group LP is developing and will own The O2.  AEG's gaming partner, Kerzner International Ltd. of the Bahamas, has applied for the casino license, and would own and operate the gaming establishment if it gets the license.  Preliminary construction has already started on The O2 casino site.

AEG has threatened to withhold the $350 million it plans to invest in the dome's redevelopment as a live-entertainment venue, if the project doesn't get the casino license.  The O2 has long been the front-runner with a British government advisory committee for the license, according to British press reports.

AEG Live, the AEG component that handles live arts and other types of productions, is helping to stage the Tut exhibit worldwide along with the National Geographic Society and Arts and Exhibitions International LLC of Aurora, Ohio.

David Campbell, president and CEO of AEG Europe, told The Peninsula, "We hope that Tutankhamun is going to come to London in November next year."

If the Tut exhibit doesn't go to The O2, an alternate London location still may be found.

The Tut show is currently at Chicago's Field Museum through Jan. 1.  It next goes to the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, where it will stay from Feb. 3 to Sept. 30, 2007.

The proposed O2 casino and its license have been the subject of controversy since last summer, when Britain's parliament and Scotland Yard launched investigations into possible conflict of interest at meetings between Anschutz and British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott related to the dome's redevelopment.  Among those meetings was a visit by Prescott to Anschutz's Colorado ranch in 2006.

At issue was whether Prescott violated British law against accepting hospitality and gifts that might make him obliged to the giver, or appear to be obliged.  But after preliminary investigations, both Scotland Yard and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they found no wrongdoing on Prescott's part.