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City Councillors ask tough questions on casino expansion

“I want to be clear that there was evidence of poor money policing in BC casinos, and that the BCLC was fined by FINTRAC more than $700,000. Is that correct?” Councillor David Cadman asked city social planner Mario Lee.

"They have an explanation," Lee said, and derisive laughter from the anti-casino crowd broke out.

Cadman's strong tone characterized the questioning by Vision Vancouver and Cope City Councillors of the casino expansion proposal. This surprised some in the audience. One woman said she had expected less of the politicians and was pleased that they seemed intent on getting the truth out of both Paragon casino operators and city staff about government-sponsored gambling's real impacts on the city.

Councillor Tim Stevenson said that RCMP’s Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team “warned of the extreme vulnerability of casinos to money-laundering, loan-shark activity by organized crime, and terrorists." Looking at the city staff, he asked, "We’re aware of that, are we?”

Later in the evening, he referred to recent killings that took place outside B.C. casinos, including the murder of Lily Li, whose death in 2006 is believed to be a result of her work as a loan shark at River Rock Casino.

Councillor Kerry Jang and George Chow, meanwhile, asked proponents to cite more studies about the dangers of problem gamblers. Councillor Suzanne Anton was less probing in her questions, but provoked strong reactions from both sides of the audience when she remarked about the view corridor.

After a PowerPoint presentation by Stephen Bohus on how the proposed casino would block the view of the sky and mountains, Anton commented, "Once the roof is put into that (BC Place), there's really no view there anyway." This prompted cheers from the casino staff and cries of outrage from others in the crowd. 

But overall, except for Anton councillors' questions toward concerned citizens were sympathetic. Councillors questioned men and women who had come out for the hearing on a weekend evening on issue of relocation and expansion. They seemed intent on honing in on what bothered citizens most. Were they opposed to any form of expanding the casino? Was it the idea of increasing the slot machines three-fold that bothered them? Or were they okay wih the idea of approving the relocation of the current Edgewater casino to BC Place without expanding the number of slot machines? 

While many Edgewater casino employees spoke at the hearings on Monday, speakers who believed the future Vancouver might be better served by other developments at the site dominated on Tuesday. Their passion for other projects and other solutions has apparently had an impact. A "shift in tide" was noted by reporter Frances Bula in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail:

Supporters and opponents of casino expansion in Vancouver both say they believe the tide has suddenly turned against the proposal in the wake of a raucous first night of public hearings Monday that drew hundreds.

That has both sides working feverishly to influence the continuing public hearings in what now appears likely to be a much more unpredictable decision from city councillors about whether to allow Paragon Gaming to triple the size of its current casino.

“All of a sudden it’s totally changed. I see there is a shift and, yes, it makes me more concerned than I was in November,” said a despondent-sounding Jean Van Vliet, president of the Canadian Auto Workers local that represents the current casino’s 600 workers. “Now all these people are jumping on the bandwagon to oppose this.”

The hearings will continue on Monday, March 14th. Although one of the speakers expressed frustration on Tuesday that the casino expansion appeared to be a "fait accompli", the tone of councillors on Tuesday suggests that the casino expansion could be far from a done deal.

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