Live blogging the casino public hearing at City Council
11:00pm -- Mayor Gregor Robertson announces that City Council will reconvene to hear the rest of the speakers tomorrow (Tuesday March 8th), and that the hearings are likely to run from 7-10 pm.
10:55 -- Another Edgewater casino employee, Arif Bhaloo (last speaker of this evening), talking about his high wage at Edgewater, his "thrilling" job, how much he enjoys being in the industry (past 17 years), how he comes from a single-parent home on social assistance, how the casino allowed him to "enjoy some of the finer things in life." Many people have left by now, atmosphere is relaxed.
10:50 -- Janet Hansen, another Edgewater casino employee, talks about how many people would be negatively impacted if the proposed casino did not get approved. She talks about a $30,000 donation to the Food Bank by Edgewater, and talks about personal tragedies including husband's disability and how the casino job supports her as the main breadwinner. Councillor Jang asks if she will lose her job if the casino does not get relocated, Hansen says she will not.
Interesting that most speakers so far are supporters, and employees of the casino.
10:44 -- Fayne Bolter, an Edgewater casino employee (whose wife is also an employee) says it will cause financial distress if the casino project does not go forward.
10:42 -- Ms. Baker, a supporter of the project, talks about her job at Edgewater, and how she must provide for her disabled daughter who is unable to work. She says "I think having an upgraded casino...is exactly what the night life (in Vancouver) needs." She talks about how Paragon is offering her a long-lasting job in management, and that if she doesn't get it, she would be on assistance. She expresses her fear of poverty, saying "I do not want to be homeless".
Meggs asks Baker if she has heard from employers that her current casino will close if Paragon's project doesn't go forward. Baker replies, no, but she wants to expand in her current job.
10:40 -- Leslie Harris - Edgewater casino employee says she found a job at Edgewater while couch-surfing in Vancouver, says it helps her "experience 3 Gs" of Vancouver: Greatness, Giving (donating $80,000 to the Food Bank), Growth. Talks about her growth as a person because of her job at Edgewater, her fears about being on the receiving end of services at Food Bank.
10:30 -- Craig, a Vancouver resident, introduces himself as one of the 95% of BC residents who gamble. He says the current casinos are "substandard" for a city of Vancouver's size. He calls the current BC Place "outdated," "leaky," and says that renovations are necessary. He praises Paragon as an employer, and says it's an "excellent solution" that City should support.
Stevenson asks him if there are any large cities in Canada with a casino right downtown. Craig said there is a large casino in Montreal, and says the current area in Vancouver anyway is a void.
Craig says he's a recreational gambler, and the facility here doesn't match international standards. He says at night, you can't golf or ski, but you can go to casinos.
10:18 -- Greater Vancouver Alliance of Arts and Culture representative Amir Ali Alibhai says that the arts community is "united in its opposition to the casino." Says that they've become aware of many different perspectives on the proposal, and became aware of many more reasons to oppose. He talks about "questionable credibility and track record of the proponent," the "inflated figures" of projected revenue, and calls on the City to reject the proposal. He says he wants a city that is "well-planned," "socially cohesive," and that a "downtown casino plunked in the middle of downtown is not part of that vision." He says artists are united in their opposition to the casino.
Suzanne Anton asks him to clarify if he's opposed because arts funding has not been provided, or if it's because he dislikes the idea of the casino in general. answers that in addition to not receiving the funds, they do not support the casino project.
Stevenson asks, if they get money, would they support it? Alibhai says the arts community would still be opposed. Stevenson comments, "Very brave."
10:14 -- A senior resident (elderly woman) opposes the casino on grounds of increased crime and policing. Quotes CBC Radio Mark Forsythe asking Rich Coleman asking why $10,000 limit is not enforced. Quotes how Coleman said it should not be, as customers should not be refused. Says that the casino will encourage "international thugs to money launder as well." Cheers erupt in the hallway.
10:00 -- Two speakers in the construction industry talk about the need for 5,500 new construction jobs that the new casinos would generate, and says it would also help fund community organizations.
Jang asks if he supports the casino, or just development of any kind that generates jobs, citizen responds he would be just as happy if there was no casino, but if there was a large project that generates jobs.
9:50 -- A hotel industry representative (member of BC Government and Service Empoyes' Union) says that the casino will lead to further job opportunities at BC Place, and says the hotels will all benefit from a larger casino downtown. He mentions that a local cafe owner expected increased business in the area if the casino is built.
9:46 -- The evening's first citizen speaker steps up to express his support of the casino proposal. Robert Harrison says the casino provides "much employment for 600 employees" and the families they support, and that their jobs will be in "serious jeopardy" unless the City approves of this casino. He urges City to "vote yes" on the casino to turn Vancouver into a "fun, entertaining" destination.
Meggs clarifies that the 600 people who Harrison referred to are currently employed, and that the jeopordized jobs he mentioned references the people who stand to be employed by the new casino.
9:36 -- Mayor Gregor Robertson asks about "destination casino" -- says percentage of revenue in this casino that is expected to come from other casinos. Graydon says most of Edgewater revenue comes from Vancouver residents, so this model will not change. Graydon adds that revenue from international travelers will increase instead.
Robertson asks, John Cahill says Vancouver will have better results than Richmond because Richmond is residential, but Vancouver is an international city.
Robertson asks what percentage of revenue is expected from casinos, compared to hotels, etc. Cahill responds, about a third.
9:32 -- Cadman asks Menke about rezoning, whether to go ahead if public hearing says there should not be a larger casino. Menke says no.
He asks Graydon about 11 million people coming to Vancouver for casino, even though it didn't "pan out" with Hastings. He asks how it is that this new casino is expected to get 17 million. Graydon responds that it will come from international travelers. Cadman talks about 4.9% problem gamblers, 8% at risk, and asks of the effect of online gambling on gamblers. Graydon says they've only been online a few months, so no figures yet.
9:30 -- Reimer mentions polls that majority of residents oppose the casino, and asks if they would be willing to fund a referendum if needed.
9:25 -- Councillor Reimer asks why there was not more consultation with the public, given that public consultation is necessary for both relocation and development. Podmore replies that there was an amendment in 2008, and that this made the casino acceptable. Podmore continues that the community in the area always knew that Edgewater needed to be moved, and says that Pavco is not the developer, just the landlord, and says that others would answer her question better.
9:20: Councillor George Meggs asks what the proposals were, alternatives to casino. Podmore replies that the other proposal was a residential building. Meggs asks about Podmore telling Turner (to become the new face of Paragon) not to have any involvement in discussions. Meggs turns to the subject of money-laundering and asks how much he would commit to using best practices and standards for enforcement, saying it sounds that Ontario is much tougher (with enforcement). Graydon responds, Ontario is not the toughest, insists that BC will become the toughest in the world.
Meggs talks about problems with frailty of horseracing business in Hastings Park, asks if they will help people if they lose jobs at Hastings Park. Graydon says he will help with jobs.
9:14: Councillor Suzanne Anton -- says it is frustrating that Graydon is here representing the province. Says province failed its commitment to revenues for funding charitable organizations, asking someone to represent the province because it's difficult to understand what the province's stance is on this (contributions).
Says to Podmore, "I really like the look of the new stadium," and asks what the height limitations are of the view corridors. Asks if he would have gone for a higher height if he could have, Graydon responds yes, after Podmore asks him to respond in his place. They begin talking about 300-foot height limit at False Creek.
9:10 -- Raymond Louie questions financial projections -- $23 million of casino revenue generated to the City. Michael Graydon of BCLC replies, $14 million is expected. Louie questions if Graydon can guarantee the accuracy of the forecast.
Graydon insists that forecast of $240-275 million revenue from Paragon is accurate.
9:04 -- Ellen Woodsworth asks about the impact of the casino on restaurants in the area. Menke replies no study done yet. Talks of 1.8 million square feet of job space. Woodsworth interrupts and asks what the impact is, and Menke says no study has not been done yet. Woodsworth mentions that 8.6% of gamblers are at risk of becoming problem gamblers, talks of youth between 18 and 34 are becoming problem gamblers and asks what this means for families when people in the prime of their life are becoming problem gamblers.
Mario Lee replies that he understands the ramifications, and says there are programs in place to prevent this.
9pm -- George Chow begins to speak. Mentions 1900 new jobs, asks how much Edgewater has now. BCLC rep. replies, 600. Chow asks if they can expand 600 to 1900, saying, hotel jobs are different. He says it's a "zero sum game" -- whatever is made will be offset by the losses in the casino area.
Scott Menke of Paragon Gaming says 1200 jobs will be in hotels.
Chow mentions that Premier-elect Christie Clark is about promoting family, and wonders if this casino will promote family values. Crowd bursts in laughter.
8:57 -- Jang criticizes BCLC, saying, "It's like sticking your head in the sand," not talking about problem gamblers.
8:47: Heather Deal begins to ask about arts and culture funding. Says BCLC doesn't make direct decisions, but has influence. She talks of the decrease of the funds from gaming into arts organizations. BCLC says there has been significant difficulties for organizations funded by the City. Deal says City has maintained funding, but that they've lost some organizations, she has a hard time believing there is no link. Asks if Pavco can fill culture gaps in the city, Podmore responds that they have not been identified.
8:42 -- First question by Councillor Tim Stevenson: asks why we have to go through this process of application again after Edgewater casino was approved.
Asks about research of social impact of this casino for "expansions of this magnitude" -- asks about child abuse, addiction problems, violence. Mario Lee says Vancouver was part of studies in the impact of 4 Lower Mainland casinos, Stevenson interrupts, saying it is too much details.
"'I've been inundated with emails from constituents saying we're very concerned about this project," and says none from people who say they're for the project except one, an advertiser.
8:40 -- Questions to presenters begin. Speakers get 5 minutes each.
8:35 -- Diana Bennett, CEO of Paragon Gaming begins explaining about the project and history, talks of her 40-year history in the gambling business with her father. She says, "What works in Vegas doesn't work outside of Vegas," and talks about knowing the market in Canada, working with First Nations gaming in Alberta. Bennett says, "Perhaps our finest hour was when we came to work in Vancouver," and speaks of success with Edgewater Casino.
8:32: Person in back interrupts, "bullshit!" when representative begins to speak about corporate responsibility.
8:30 -- BCLC representative emphasizes that 95% of gamblers do so responsibly, and that there will be education and prevention programs to help people who are current problem gamblers.
8:25 -- BCLC representative (Casino supporter) talks about Edgewater relocation plan. Says the relocated casino will be a "key attraction to international visitors" and says he hopes it will give people in the Stadium a chance to go to the casino. He says the expansion "won't result in the cannibalization" of casinos. Talks about 80 people employed currently from DTES will grow to 190 if the casino project goes ahead, and says it will employ 1900 people.
8:20 -- Podmore says, "We need the employment. 5500 jobs during construction. Pavco is interested in it because...it creates added value for people who bring their business to Vancouver." He says there are people who want to come to places that have a casino, and mentions that there has been a lot of support from businesses, sports organizations and community organizations in Vancouver. Says he is a proud Vancouverite, proud of this proposal, and that "It will be done in a first-class manner," and says he is irked by the accusation that people will be forced to go to the casino before attending an event at the stadium.
8:15 -- "Pavco is not a gaming advocate," says Podmore. He addresses public criticism of the process, and explains that contrary to the perception that "this was all decided in a rush,"says 14 submissions were received from developers for the project, and says he received 3 proposals, rejected one, and maintained contact with one. He says agreement was signed in Feb. 2010.
8:13 -- Podmore talks about the obligation of Pavco to complete the reconstruction of BC Place. He says Pavco has made contributions to the community, mentions contributing $6 million in upgrading community amenities. He says the contributions are being made by Pavco, and no one else.
8:12 -- Man in T-shirt and baseball cap interrupts presentation, comes out and starts yelling at David Podmore.
8:10 -- Laughter and jeers after Podmore says, "It's easy to be the critic." Podmore responds, "I've always conducted myself in a civil manner and I hope others will as well." He says "I'm not a gambler," and says the application requires serious consideration. More jeers and shouting behind him.
8:09 -- Podmore interrupted by a speaker, "There still is (controversy)"
8:06 -- Podmore speaks of being asked about recommendations for BC Place. He says he felt it should be maintained, and says the area was designated to be an "entertainment zone". He talks about the area being located near the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and other amenities, say "this is an important debate and I respect it...I only remind people that in all these projects, they all had controversies. They all had detractors. This included BC Place. Expo 86 was the same...there was controversy over the Olympics."
8:05 -- City staff says Council's considerations are: rezoning to allow hotel/entertainment casino complex, relocation of Edgewater casino to BC Place site, expansion of Edgewater Casino. David Podmore of Pavco, representing the casino applicant, starts to explain about the casino project.
8pm -- Presentation turns to gambling venue crimes, such as loan-sharking and money laundering. He says the police hasn't had major concerns regarding the location of the casino. He concludes by saying that gaming facilities are highly policed, and that in Ontario, all the casino workers are all sworn Ontario police officers, which is not the case here.
7:57 -- Lee talks about social responsibility of Edgewater casino. He says that it plans to hire 10 percent of staff from the DTES. He says $1.2 million have been received to date for the Social Responsibility Fund.
7:54 -- Lee talks about problem gambling. He says more than 12,000 people fill out an application for problem gambling, and mentions that about 7,000 people have been enrolled in the Voluntary Self Exclusion program in BC. He explains problem gambling initiatives, such as a help line. He compares percentage of government funds dedicated to problem gambling in BC and other provinces. According to the graph, BC ranks last.
7:50 -- Mario Lee presents studies on gambling in the province. He says 95% of British Columbians have had at least one gambling activity over last year, and notes that 4.6% of BC's adult population have a gambling problem.
7:45 -- Mario Lee speaking. Talking about the gross annual revenue -- $114 million is projected for 2010. He says $230-$275 million (BCLC) is expected after 2013, $338 million according to a study by Paragon. He says city revenue in 2010 is projected at $6.15 million, and talks of plans to bring additional tourists to the casino.
7:41 -- City staff is speaking and giving a presentation of re-zoning. Talks about upgrade of BC Place. Explaining policy context, saying that the Northeast False Creek is to be for a "mix of uses" 1.8 million square feet of job space, allows other cultural and recreational facilities, including art gallery and major casino. 800,000 square feet of commercial development. 2 hotels to comprise 400,000 square feet. Casino gaming floor of 114,000 feet. As part of application, casino will expand Smithe street.
7:33 -- Mayor Robertson introduces casino expansion hearing, noting, "I trust you're all here for this item", and laughter erupts in the room. Crowd cheers after he says there are 167 speakers. Expected to hear as many speakers as possible tonight. Scott Menke, Paragon top executive is seated behind us, looking a bit concerned.
7:30 -- Stevenson, Deal, Anton, Meggs, Jang, all in, as is Mayor Robertson, going to his desk and George Chow is just coming in. Press is squeezed everywhere. Casino workers wearing yellow shirts are seated in the room, as are Paragon representatives. Jeff Lee of the Vancouver Sun is seated on our left.
Entire lobby of third floor filled with folding chairs and people.
7:15 -- Allen Garr (Vancouver Courier) says, "nobody wants this except for the developers and the unions." He adds, "I've never seen a crowd this big (at a City Council meeting)."
7:00pm -- Place crammed with people. Mainly against. Sandy Garrosino gave rousing speech "This is about the future of Vancouver." Others in crowd held signs saying "Green, Not Greed" and "No Casino". People spoke of a need to spend funds on education and arts. One woman suggested a world class marina would be a better idea.