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A battle long brewing comes to a head tonight at City Hall

A battle that has been brewing for months over Vancouver's future will come to a head tonight at City Hall.  Public hearings twice delayed will finally take place tonight at 7:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers  on the  $500-million proposal for a casino expansion project at BC Place. Forces for the casino development project and against it will have a chance to speak their mind before city council and Mayor Gregor Robertson.

More than 125 people have signed on to express their views on a project which backers bill as a "destination casino". Promoters say the proposed complex will attract gamblers from all over the world to spend their money in Vancouver, rather than creating additional social problems and costs in the city from problem gambling. City Manager Penny Ballem was quoted in the Georgia Straight on January 18 stating that she hoped visitors would "take their problems with them when they leave."

A poll by Justason Market Intelligence last month showed 51% of the city oppose the casino expansion. 

Vancouver Not Vegas, a group of citizens opposing the expansion, is holding a rally at 6:30 p.m. in front of City Hall, according to the group's website.

On the street, opinions are mixed...

When asked if he thought that a new casino could lead to rising crime rates, Dave McKim shrugged, “I think they do their very best to police that kind of thing proactively. I guess that could easily happen, but I think they try to police it the best they can. I really don’t see any problem – or much of a problem – in Richmond with prostitution, loan sharking...or anything like that.”

Dave McKim says the casino could enliven the downtown area

Asked why she thought the hearings had been postponed, Vancouver resident Rebecca Bishop replied, “I’m imagining they’re probably overwhelmed with response. They’re probably rephrasing, refocusing. I suspect they’re uncertain about how it’s being perceived. I support the current City Council, but my perception has not been that they’ve been really responsive to public opinion about things. They make a decision, they vote about what they’re going to do in a proceeding, but I don’t have a sense on what their position is on the casino.”

Rebecca Bishop shares her thoughts in Library Square

Bishop says that she’s “not thrilled” with the idea of the casino expansion. “I don’t think it will make any cultural or social contribution to the downtown core,” she said. “I know that gambling has probably caused a lot of harm to a lot of people, and the fact that we’re considering enlarging this very close to the Downtown East Side, [increasing] access to very problematic. It’s obviously a great way to generate some revenue for the city...I’m assuming [that it will generate] provincial or civil revenue, but I don't welcome it.”

The BC Association for Charitable Gaming has expressed doubt that the potential monetary benefits for the city will be as great as the casino proponents claim.

“Vancouver and BC charities and non-profits are devastated,” wrote BCACG President Susan Marsden in a letter to the Vancouver City Council, “Gaming grants, a vital source of revenue for so many organizations, are now far below the levels of 1997, the year the first slot machines were approved in BC...In Vancouver alone, the loss of gaming grants is difficult to assess, but appears to be well in excess of $4 million annually.” 

The BCACG refuses to support any expansion to gaming in BC until charitable donations from the gambling industry return to the originally agreed-upon 1/3 of gaming revenues. 

Nathan Mah, an employee at The Library Florist in the Library Square, just a few blocks away from BC Place, had mixed feelings about the project. “I’ve been thinking about it,” he said, “because it is going to potentially attract a lot of people to the city. And the casinos have been really big money-earners for the government. Arts funding, education’s really been a big support. So from the government’s side, I can see why that would be such an attractive thing."

However, Mah is worried about the size of the casino, which is slated to be the largest gambling venue in Western Canada.

"I feel that it’s too big of a project," he says. "I don’t think Vancouver should be a destination specifically for casinos...I don't think that’s good for the city; it’s not good for [our] image.”

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