Grumble at the Roundhouse

Walking into the Roundhouse last night for the public information session on Paragon Development LTD.’s proposed mega-casino, I expected to see a motley crew of concerned citizens, dissenters and zoning wonks. This would quickly prove to be a naïve assumption.

The theatre was flush with over a hundred Edgewater Casino employees, each one wearing a blue t-shirt that read, “Don’t gamble with our jobs.” 

Hosted by Vancouver city officials, the meeting was the latest event held in the run up to the February 17th public hearing on the rezoning of 777 Pacific Boulevard. If approved, the proposal will allow Paragon to relocate its current operations at the Edgewater into a new complex to be built on the southwest side of BC Place Stadium. 

The Las Vegas-based Paragon recently ran an eight-page ad in the Vancouver Sun, claiming that the city of Vancouver will (hypothetically) receive $23 million per year if the plan goes ahead.

A number of city officials were in attendance, including senior social planner Mario Lee, who told the crowd that in addition to the profits to be wrought from the proposed casino, Paragon has agreed to hire ten percent of its new workers from the Downtown Eastside.

This incentive was in line with the prevailing theme of the meeting – jobs. As the bulk of the crowd was pro-casino Edgewater employees, job security dominated the discussion.

Eventually it became a bit repetitive and I walked over to the food table for a coffee and while I was surveying the baked goods situation one of the Blueshirts began to deliver a rousing speech that a more cynical individual may have suspected to be something of a pre-scripted pantomime.

The speaker began by explaining how the new casino would attract tourists from around the world, allowing Vancouver to once again showcase its greatness on the global stage just as it did during the Olympics. Then his tone took a dour turn, arguing that the scope and size of the Edgewater was never fully realized, and without the proposed expansion, 800 hard-working people will lose their jobs and would no longer be able to support their families.

What comes next? Social decay, according to another concerned Edgewater employee. “This is what capitalism is… and it’s all I’ve done for twenty years.” He said. “If they shut it down, what am I going to do? Be a burden on society?”

This prerogative is completely understandable; no one wants to lose his or her job. Nor do many of us aspire to be pariahs. But if the Edgewater was already losing money to begin with, is it in the best interest of the city of Vancouver to redefine an entire neighbourhood just to accommodate one failing business model?

The greater potential of Northeast False Creek was scantly mentioned, unless in reference to how amazingly entertaining and (hypothetically) profitable it will all be once home to Western Canada’s largest casino.

But no matter which way you spin it, building a large casino in the downtown core seems like an act of desperation. Hopefully tonight’s other casino-related event, Vancouver not Vegas, will produce a more lively debate that doesn’t hinge on former glory and flashing lights. 

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