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Provincial-backed casino requires City approval, but can City say no?

The proposed expansion of Edgewater Casino at BC Place requires Vancouver city council approval. Public hearings are slated for early December.  

All that stands between a green light on the mega-casino is a development permit from city council. BC Place is operated by the Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), a Crown Corporation, but the casino requires municipal approval.

In March, a 70 year lease was awarded to Paragon Gaming for two acres of the BC Place west side land. In addition to the casino, the Nevada-based company plans to build two internationally-branded hotels. The project will cost $450-million.

"From my understanding we have no ground on which not to issue the permit," Councillor Ellen Woodsworth said in a recent interview about the City's position vis a vis the proposal to relocate Edgewater Casino to BC Place.  The new casino will more than triple the number of slot machines - from 493 to 1, 500 - and include an additional 150 table games.

The provincial government is playing hardball to ensure that the City of Vancouver gives the go-head for a Las Vegas-style mega-casino at BC Place, Woodsworth said.

The city still has to issue Paragon Gaming a development permit.

 Senior City Planner Michael Gordon estimates that public hearings will not be held until mid-December or mid-January, Woodsworth said. The date has not been set because there is a report on the casino in the City Manager's office.

If council were to refuse to issue the permit, it would delay but not prevent the casino from being built, she said.

"They haven’t had public hearings in the community. They’ve been going to individual groups," Woodsworth said.

The Councillor declined to go into specifics, but said that there were some indicators that the province was serious about securing a development permit from the City.

"They want things their way. We have to work with them to get housing that we need, we have to work with them to get infrastructure dollars. Cities get eight cents of the tax dollar." If the City doesn't work with the provincial and federal monies, we can't accomplish any of the things that we need to do, including providing social housing,  said Woodsworth.

"We’re in a very vulnerable situation here."

Regarding the possibile repercussions of failing to cooperate with the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, who are responsible for BCLC and casino licenses, Woodsworth said, "I think it’s possible that if we don’t work with Minister Rich Coleman on this project then he won’t work with us on housing at the Olympic Village. I can’t say this for sure."

There was no polling of Vancouverites' opinions on the proposed casino development at any point of the process, which moved unusually rapidly, the Councillor added.

"But the big thing that people are really angry about, and something that I’m going to push for, is that the province was supposed to put the money from gaming into a fund and a big chunk of that was supposed to go to nonprofit organizations and the arts."

Since the City of Vancouver will have to pick up the policing costs, the traffic costs, and the social costs from the development of the casino, we should ask for some of the funding from the casino to go to non-profits and the arts in the city, said the Councillor. 

"That’s where I’m really going to be raising the questions and pushing this one," she said.

On Thursday, members from the BC Association for Charitable Gaming, a coalition of approximately 1,000 non-profit community service, sports, cultural, and other organizations, gathered on the steps of City Hall to call on the City of Vancouver to invest 33 percent of the revenue from the proposed mega-casino at BC Place in non-profit social service organizations.

According to Woodsworth, if a mega-casino is built at BC Place, there will be serious repercussions for Hastings Racecourse.

 "My concern there is that there’s a lot of jobs that come with the casino that will be eliminated because the impact of this casino could easily cause the collapse of the casino at the racecourse."

Employees of the racecourse would not be able to find work at the casino because the job options are different, she said.

Howard Blank, Vice President of Media, Entertainment and Responsible Gaming for the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, does not believe the mega-casino would have an impact on the number of jobs.

 "These are entirely two different products. You have two different options. One in downtown Vancouver and one in east Vancouver."

There are between 300 and 360 jobs directly associated with the race track, but the number of other jobs at the racecourse varies by season, said Blank. "There are probably between 5500 and 1000 people employed by horse racers and owners."

"You’re talking about a casino that will be built three years from now. Why would a new casino affect their jobs?" 

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