Vancouver city council began a third night of public hearings Monday into the proposed expansion of Edgewater Casino by directing questions to Vancouver Coastal Health medical officer John Carsley and deputy Vancouver police chief Warren Lemcke.
Councillors’ questions to Carsley came in follow-up to a report the physician sent to council last week recommending the city reject the proposed casino expansion.
Carsley told council there are an estimated 133,000 to 185,000 problem gamblers in the province, including an estimated 19,000 to 43,000 severe problem gamblers.
Vision Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer questioned Carsley on why he suggested council reject the project given the contradictory evidence on the impacts of gambling expansion.
“We’re talking about a very common and very severe disorder,” replied Carsley. “So if we’re wrong, in the sense if you make the wrong decision, then the impact will be significant.”
Councillors directed multiple questions to Lemcke about enforcement at Vancouver casinos, but the deputy chief said casinos aren’t a major problem for police. He said officers respond to calls from Edgewater Casino about 70 times a year on average.
When asked by COPE Councillor David Cadman how many times police have been called to casinos about large quantities of cash, Lemcke said “zero”.
“I’m not sure that people are walking into casinos with duffle bags full of money, I just don’t think that that’s happening,” he said. “I think that there’s money laundering that goes on at casinos, but I don’t think it happens in that fashion.”
Lemcke did indicate there’s a potential concern the casino complex could be a drain on police resources, particularly during events at B.C. Place.
“If this does go ahead and if all this goes in and we start to get a lot of calls for service there and it starts to deplete police resources, if it means that we can’t get to other calls as quick as we can because we’re tied up here, then we’re going to come forward and say something needs to be done,” he said.
Lemcke said the casino isn’t his main concern, but the “entire package,” including the two hotels, bars and restaurants.
“Because of our experience with the current casino, I’m actually more concerned about bars and night clubs,” said Lemcke.
Other speakers Monday included former NPA councillor Peter Ladner and former city planner Nathan Edelson. Both expressed their opposition to the proposal.
Ladner argued that while there have been a few “low-profile” open houses on the proposal, there has been “no serious public consultation or analysis.”
Other opponents to the project that addressed council on Monday included Vancouver Not Vegas organizer Sandy Garossino, Sean Bickerton of the False Creek Residents’ Association, and Sheila Paterson of the Council of Seniors Organizations of B.C.
Council also heard from many Edgewater Casino employees Monday who issued pleas to councillors to protect their jobs.
“We’re here begging for our jobs and for this expansion to go through,” said single mother Arishta Bhan during an emotional address to council.
Edgewater casino dealer Jeff Reynolds said the company is trying to expand, and that following major events there are “hundreds of people” circling the tables waiting for a seat.
The hearing, which recessed at about 11 p.m. Monday evening, will reconvene on April 12, unless an earlier date is added to the schedule.
Council has now heard from about 50 of the 200 speakers scheduled to address council on the proposed casino complex.