Casino critics want rezoning vote delayed

Council should delay vote on Edgewater's move until court rules on its legality, says Vancouver Not Vegas coalition.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Anti-gambling activists will be out in force Tuesday morning as Vancouver city council votes on a rezoning that will allow the Edgewater casino to move from its former site on False Creek to a planned hotel complex beside BC Place.

Their argument? That the move can't be handled through simple rezoning of property, and that under the province's Gaming Control Act, a full public hearing is required. 

Beyond that, according to Lindsay Brown, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Not Vegas coalition, council should delay the vote because the matter is now before the BC Supreme Court.

Brown filed a petition earlier this month asking for a ruling on the city's decision to handle the move as a rezoning issue. No date has been set for a hearing, and Brown said told The Observer this week that the matter should be set aside until a decision is made.

Critics of the move will ask to speak before council Tuesday, Brown said, although the vote is not set up as a public hearing and the public is not generally allowed to speak during standard council debates.

A long and public battle

The casino debate has a long history, starting with the City's approval for redevelopment of Northeast False Creek in 2008, just before the municipal elections.

During the public hearings in the spring, Paragon Gaming, owner of the Edgewater Casino, said that relocation without an expansion of the gaming license was not an acceptable solution, and it offered no amended plan for the public or Council to review.

Still, council voted unanimously in April to reject a proposal to greatly expand the casino. The proposal at that point called for two hotels and a large casino complex featuring up to 1,500 slot machines.

The vote followed a massive outcry from citizens and groups who argued that the large gambling centre would increase crime in the surrounding area, much of which is residential, and increase problem gambling. 

Mayor Gregor Robertson promised in October, as his party's election campaign ramped up, that there would be no mega-casino in the city should he be re-elected.

But he did not rule out a move of the casino at its former size to a new site.

Brown is angry at the approach, she says, because it doesn't allow the public to see how the new casino will be designed and if the site is being built to allow for future expansion. The vote is further complicated by the fact that Edgewater has said it didn't want to move a casino of the same size.

"To this day, the people of Vancouver still have no idea of what is being planned for the casino development on the B.C. Place Stadium site, yet council has essentially written Paragon and PavCo [developers of the site] a blank cheque by approving the relocation," Brown said.

"Once again, plans are being made behind closed doors at city hall, apparently to be dropped on the public when it's too late for us to have a voice, but this time council has granted its approval in advance (by rezoning without a plan before council).

"The B.C. Place site is a Vancouver landmark affecting thousands of residents, and we don't know what's happening there. We need to be part of the discussion this time around -- if there is a 'this time around'.

Working with Brown on the cause is retired justice Ian Pitfield, a coalition supporter, who agrees with her that "council consistently treated this application as a re-zoning matter, and has not recognized the requirements of provincial legislation governing decisions around gaming licences.

"The community was not provided with any particulars of the relocation proposal. It was only told about an expansion."

The casino rezoning motion will be debated in council chambers at 9:30 Tuesday morning.




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