Vancouver city council has voted to send a proposal to build what could be the largest casino complex in Western Canada to a public hearing next month.
Council opted to send the casino expansion proposal from the B.C. Pavilion Corporation to a February 17 public hearing. In the meantime, city staff will conduct an additional public meeting on the issue.
If approved, the project would see Edgewater Casino moved from its current location at the Plaza of Nations to a rezoned site near B.C. Place. The expanded site would include two hotels and up to 1,500 slot machines and 150 gaming tables. The casino is currently permitted up to 600 slot machines and 150 gaming tables.
Councillors expressed some concerns about the casino expansion proposal Tuesday, including concerns about the potential for increased problem gambling.
Vancouver’s general manager of community services, Dave McLellan, told city council that an estimated 4.6 percent of the adult population in B.C. suffers from problem gambling, which he said translates to about 21,000 residents. One percent of the adult population suffer from pathological gambling, he said.
Vision Vancouver councillor Tim Stevenson asked whether the number of problem gamblers will spike if a major casino is built in a visible downtown location.
City manager Penny Ballem said the casino is designed to be a “destination casino” that is expected to attract a significant number of international visitors, who she said will hopefully “take their problems home with them when they leave.”
Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs asked questions about the standards of enforcement to prevent money laundering and other potential crime at casinos.
“I would like to see whatever information you can provide about processes the city could ask the province to undertake that would restore confidence that we have the best practices,” he told city staff.
CBC News recently reported an alleged spike in suspicious cash transactions at two casinos in the Lower Mainland.
COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth introduced a motion Tuesday calling for a review of public gambling in order to restore confidence in the lottery system and to review "the provincial government's obligations to charities for gaming revenues."
Woodsworth told the Straight that non-profit and arts groups are getting about 10 percent of provincial gaming revenues, despite a memorandum of understanding signed in the 1990s designating one third of revenues to these groups.
Three other city planning reports related to the casino expansion were also referred to next month's public inquiry, including a proposal by Concord Pacific to build four residential towers in the northeast False Creek area.
If approved, the casino expansion would generate an estimated $17 million in revenue to the city annually, up from a current $7 million in annual revenues.