Just over a dozen speakers out of a list of 163 made it to the podium in city council chambers, which were filled to capacity, including an overflow seating area in the foyer.
Councillors first heard from David Podmore, the chair of the B.C. Pavilion Corporation, Michael Graydon, the president of the B.C. Lottery Corporation, and Diana Bennett, the CEO of Paragon Gaming.
Podmore spoke to some of the public comments that have been made about the proposal, and said that while it's "easy to be the critic, it’s a lot tougher to be the proponent".
“There’s a lot more onus on the proponent to answer the questions,” he said, to some interjections from the crowd.
Podmore said they have received support for the proposal from some business, sports and community organizations. He noted the project would create 5,500 jobs during construction and 1,900 during operation.
The proposal would see Edgewater Casino relocated from the Plaza of Nations and expanded at a rezoned site adjacent to B.C. Place. The 800,000-square-foot complex would include two hotels, restaurants, lounges, and a spa.
Councillors asked a series of questions on issues including problem gambling, security at casinos and funding for B.C. arts groups and charities.
Graydon told council that 4.6 percent of B.C.’s adult population have a gambling problem, while staff acknowledged after questioning from COPE Councillor Ellen Woodsworth that an additional 8 percent of the population are at risk of problem gambling.
Speakers opposed to the casino expansion included Peter Greenwell, the chair of the Vancouver Planning Commission. He urged city council to delay their vote to allow for a city-wide public consultation process on gambling expansion.
“We believe that Vancouver’s consistent historic opposition to large casinos and expanded gambling is ground for taking the time for city-wide consultation on this proposed casino expansion in order to address issues that were not covered at the city’s February 8th information session, “ he said.
“These include the impact on the city’s policing budget, the impact on local business and residential areas, the opportunity that the casino provides for expanding and adding legitimacy to the operations of organized crime, and the social impacts on vulnerable populations including problem gamblers and low-income households.”
Amir Ai Alibhai addressed council on behalf of the Greater Vancouver Alliance for Arts and Culture.
He called for a moratorium on any gambling expansion “until the issue of revenue shares for the non-profit and charitable sector is resolved, and until some of the broader issues with public trust in the management and operations of public gaming are addressed.”
Other speakers that addressed council Monday expressed their support for the proposal and the potential increase in jobs. A section of the council chambers was filled with Edgewater Casino employees wearing yellow shirts with the phrase “Save our Jobs.”
“With the lease in its present site expiring in 2013, those workers currently employed at the casino would be out of work, unable to provide for their families as they do now,” said Robert Harrison, a representative of Local 300 of the Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents 600 employees at the Edgewater Casino.
The casino proposal was announced by outgoing Premier Gordon Campbell in March 2010.
Council will continue hearing from speakers on Tuesday, March 8 at 7 p.m.