Public pressure is growing for more consultation on a proposal to build what would be the largest casino complex in Western Canada.
Vancouver, Not Vegas, a coalition of community groups opposed to the proposed casino expansion next to B.C. Place, predicts there will be “significant attendance” at a public hearing on the plan that begins on Thursday (February 17) at 7:30 p.m. at Vancouver City Hall.
Sandy Garossino, a member of the coalition, said the group’s single most resounding concern is a lack of adequate information and public consultation on the proposal. The coalition want a moratorium on all casino expansion in the city until a public review of gambling policy is conducted.
“Vancouver city council on February 1 unanimously passed a resolution calling for a full public review of gaming policy, and we’re asking council to back that up by halting this until we know all the information we need to know to make informed decisions about this,” Garossino told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
In March 2010, Premier Gordon Campbell announced plans for a $450-million entertainment complex attached to B.C. Place. The proposal would see Edgewater Casino relocated to a site adjacent to B.C. Place and expanded to a 680,000-square-foot complex, including two hotels, restaurants, and up to 1,500 slot machines and 150 gambling tables.
Douglas College criminologist Colin Campbell said no broad public review has been conducted into the gambling industry.
"In Canada, especially British Columbia, there has never been a public inquiry to seriously look at the social, the economic, the political impacts of gaming, and now we have big, multinational corporations coming to British Columbia, and nobody really knows the overall economic impact," Campbell told the Straight by phone.
Edmonton-based gambling expert Garry Smith told the Straight that a review of gambling in B.C. would be a positive step. “There’s never been a case that I know of in North America where the public is calling for more gambling,” Smith, a gambling research specialist at the Alberta Gaming Research Institute, said by phone.
“It’s developers, it’s [the] gambling industry, and of course the government is complicit with that because they get a share,” he added. “They’re lobbied hard by these other groups, and they tend to listen to them. There’s very little public consultation involved in gambling expansion, and there should be more.”
The Vancouver, Not Vegas coalition’s concerns include the potential for increased gambling addiction, the impact on the community, and crime.
Campbell called the staff report going to public hearing Thursday "anemic" with respect to crime and policing issues.
"I don't think there's more than three or four sentences on policing and crime," he said. "Really, there is no capacity to police gaming since the RCMP disbanded its special enforcement team, so there's a huge void there."
Smith said with any gambling expansion there’s a potential for increased problem gambling. He noted that electronic machines, including slots, are of particular concern.
Tamara Hicks, the director of corporate affairs and strategic communications for Paragon Gaming, the Las Vegas–based company that operates Edgewater Casino, said a lot of outreach has been conducted with the business community on the project.
She noted that Paragon Development Ltd. will create more than 5,500 jobs during construction and between 1,700 to 1,900 jobs during operation.
“We’re not looking to take away business from anybody,” she said. “We’re looking at being additive to this market, bringing in international tourism, really helping the surrounding areas that we’ll be integrating with.”
Smith argued the casino isn’t likely to be a major draw for international tourists. “[Tourists] may utilize it but that’s not their primary reason for going to Vancouver.”
Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada in Reno, said the effect of an urban casino on surrounding businesses depends on urban-planning strategies that go with it.
“A casino clearly brings a lot more people in the area, and if the surrounding neighbourhood is relatively attractive, there is going to be some spillover,” he said. “A lot of other urban-planning elements come into play as to how the rest of the neighbourhood is affected.”
He noted successful examples of urban casinos include the Crown Casino in Melbourne, which led to neighbourhood revitalization.