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Cities outside Vancouver brace for new casino hunt

Paragon Gaming and the provincial government failed Tuesday in their bid to convince Vancouver council to approve a massive casino expansion downtown. - File
Paragon Gaming and the provincial government failed Tuesday in their bid to convince Vancouver council to approve a massive casino expansion downtown.
— image credit: File

Vancouver city council's rejection of a 1,500-slot machine destination casino downtown means the spurned developers may soon be placing their bets on other nearby cities.

Paragon Gaming president Scott Menke told reporters Tuesday he remains committed to finding a "permanent destination in the Lower Mainland."

That echoed previous comments by B.C. Lottery Corp. CEO Michael Graydon, who  said in February a rejection in Vancouver would "certainly" prompt a look at sites in other Metro Vancouver cities, potentially as far as Abbotsford.

"There could be some knocking on our door," said City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto. "My feeling is that a casino development, especially one that size, would not be successful in this city."

But he said he would not be surprised if the North Shore was considered, noting the BCLC has identified its 175,000 population as the largest in B.C. not yet served by casino facilities.

He said one group has proposed a community gaming centre with a modest number of slots and bingo, but has so far failed to gain approval.

Another possibility is First Nations reserve land on the North Shore.

Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob said his office has not been approached about any casino project and could not predict how one would be received by his council.

Port Moody was also mentioned by Graydon earlier this year as a potential host city, but mayor Joe Trasolini said then it wouldn't fly.

Most other cities in Metro Vancouver already have casinos and a new development would compete against the existing facility, cannibalizing the flow of revenue generated for the host city.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts gave no indication of how she would view a major new casino proposal, if the rejected proponents try their hand in Surrey.

"We would cross that bridge if and when it ever comes," she said.

Great Canadian Gaming Corp. already runs the Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino in Cloverdale.

Watts said it was originally promised to be a destination casino and her council remains focused on seeing that existing site fully developed, with a hotel and theatre.

While some property owners have suggested they could host a casino in Surrey, Watts noted licence decisions are up to the BCLC.

Surrey has also already approved a new community gaming centre in Newton.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said she would "have difficulty" supporting a new casino in her community.

"I think we have enough of them to satisfy people's entertainment needs," she said.

New Westminster already gets a share of gaming revenue from the Starlight Casino and Burnaby hosts the Grand Villa, which is second only to River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond for profits generated.

A new casino wouldn't make sense for either city, said Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan.

He said he doubts a new casino would be proposed outside of Vancouver at anywhere near the scale as the one now rejected just west of BC Place Stadium.

The $500-million proposal was to include 150 gambling tables and two hotels.

"It don't think it's likely they're prepared to make that kind of massive investment outside the downtown core," Corrigan said. "I just don't think there's anywhere else that can sustain that level of a casino."

Tuesday's defeat in Vancouver comes as a relief to Richmond's council, which feared a downtown casino on the Canada Line would suck gamblers away from River Rock and reduce the nearly $12-million annual share of revenue the municipality receives.

Vancouver councillors cited various concerns, including problem gambling and money laundering, as well as expanded gambling being out-of-step with their vision for a green, livable city.

The most optimistic estimates pointed to Vancouver collecting $14 million and the provincial government taking in $140 million a year from the redeveloped casino, which was to replace the much smaller Edgewater Casino.

BCLC estimated Lower Mainland gamblers are capable of spending an additional $300 million a year.

Graydon previously said BCLC could also look at expanding existing casinos or community gaming centres to fully exploit that market if the Vancouver site was rejected.

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