Council expected to be divided today over motion to suspend gaming expansion

At today's city council meeting, Councillor Ellen Woodsworth will bring forward a motion to suspend the expansion of gaming in Vancouver, while another councillor says now is not the time to make a decision about the province's proposed casino expansion at BC Place.

"I think the time for the debate is when we have the public hearing," Councillor Suzanne Anton said. "I think it would be unfair to PavCo [the Crown Corporation that owns BC Place] and BC Place not to let this public hearing run its course. It would be like a judge pre-judging."

 Activists who oppose the expansion of gaming in the province are applauding Woodsworth's motion. "I was delighted to see that a City Councillor was taking this stand [but] Council needs to pick up the pace and they need to reject this development," Lindsay Brown, member of the Strathcona Residents' Association who voted to oppose the casino, wrote in an e-mail to VO.

She warned that should the casino proposal go forward, Vancouverites will view it as "an ugly legacy of [council's] tenure."

"This kind of thing is not typically seen in major Canadian cities, and there are many reasons why it constitutes very poor urban planning, not the least of which is the fact that casino cities are failing all over North America," Brown said.

Woodsworth, who told VO in October that city council had no grounds to refuse to issue a permit for the casino, said that developments over the past few months have motivated her to oppose the expansion of gaming.

Woodsworth's motion, which can be read in full here, asks that the City “affirms both the inherent and contractual rights and interests of charities and non-profits to gaming proceeds, and refuses to expand gaming until those rights and interests are protected.”

In October, the B.C. Association of Charitable Gaming and the Alliance for Arts and Culture called on the city to make the expansion of gaming contingent upon the fulfillment of a 1999 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the province, which states that one-third of gaming revenues should be distributed to the charitable sector.

"I’ve come to understand the degree to which the MOA has not been honoured. There was an MOA, even though they increased it a bit it’s still 36 million below funding levels of 2008-2009," Woodsworth said.

"The province is using the casinos as a cash cow at the same time as they are cutting the money to the arts," she said.

The motion also asks the City to "support calls to have the Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation separated into different ministries" and to "call for a review of public gaming in the province of British Columbia in order to restore public confidence in the integrity of the lottery system."

There seems to be a clear link between organized crime and money laundering, Woodsworth said. A recent report by CBC News indicated that millions of dollars passed through two B.C. casinos in a suspected money laundering scheme. "This would be the largest casino in Western Canada. City staff are saying that we're going to need more security. Why should Vancouver pay for extra policing costs?" Woodsworth said.

"I share Councillor Woodsworth’s very reasonable concerns about the casino expansion," said Sean Bickerton, who is part of a coalition between the False Creek Residents Association, the Strathcona Residents Association, the Grandview-Woodland Area Council and the Alliance for Arts and Culture to oppose the expansion of gaming. The community is deeply concerned about this massive expansion in gaming, he added.

Bickerton said that he was not sure whether or not the motion was going to pass, but he knew of a couple of councillors who were intending on voting with Woodsworth. "I know that [Woodsworth] has a seconder."

Today's council agenda includes the delivery of a policy report that refers the relocation and expansion of the Edgewater Casino to a public hearing, expected to take place on February 18th. At the public hearings council will consider both the expansion of gaming and the project's rezoning application.

Anton did say that she was "very concerned" about money laundering in B.C.'s casinos. "I would like to hear from the provincial government on that one."

Regardless of whether the motion passes, Bickerton said that his coalition is prepared to do "whatever it takes" to stop it. "We are a very energized group. I don't want anyone to doubt our seriousness."

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