Destination casino not a lucrative idea for the world's most livable city

Some civic watchers believe Vancouver may see its share in gambling revenue from the proposed new casino cut to less than 10 per cent. With $130-million in annual revenues expected for the province this means the city may be shorted by as much as $10-million a year.

Vancouver citizens and city council will soon have an opportunity to table their demands for benefits from the new "destination casino" at BC Place. They had better come prepared, because so far, the BC Liberal government has offered the city little in return for accepting this controversial development.

It is controversial for three chief reasons.

First, the city may get a far lower share of the gambling revenues than promised by the province in past agreements.

While the revenue-sharing agreement has yet to be finalized, the city’s take is expected to be much lower than it would have been ten years ago. In 1999, the then-NDP government promised a 16.7 per cent share of gaming profits for those municipalities which allowed destination-style casinos. However, Solicitor General Rich Coleman recently dismissed the BC Association for Charitable Gaming claim for a 33 per cent share of the new casino’s gaming revenue, as promised in a related 1999 agreement. If the BC Liberals are renouncing an eleven-year-old profit-sharing agreement with the province’s charitable sector, why would they honour a similar deal made with civic governments?

Some civic watchers believe Vancouver may see its share cut to less than 10 per cent. With $130-million in annual revenues expected for the province this means the city may be shorted by as much as $10-million a year.

Second, this massive new casino will certainly have some negative impacts on the area. With triple the capacity of the existing Edgewater site, this monster gambling house is 61 per cent larger than BC’s biggest casino, Richmond’s River Rock. It will feature 150 tables and up to 1,500 slot machines – nearly 15 per cent of all the slots in the province.

According to research by the Alberta Gaming Research Institute, expanded gambling capacity means increased costs borne by individual problem gamblers and their families. It is also puts more demand on policing, courts, other criminal justice services, and the healthcare system. As well, new gambling opportunities have been shown to drain economic activity from neighbouring retail, entertainment and food service businesses.

Short of rejecting the casino development, the city has virtually no control over mitigating the new casino’s negative impacts. The public services and legislative tools in place to deal with the fallout from gambling are almost all in Victoria’s control.

Third, the only community amenity the city is getting in return for accepting this casino is a not-so-retractable roof on BC Place. In the fall of 2008, city council voted to forgive all development cost levies and community amenity contributions the city usually gets from developers. It was argued at the time that this arrangement was needed to finance BC Place’s new $563-million roof, through land development around the property – development that could include a casino.

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