More than 300 people jammed a public hearing at Vancouver City Hall on Monday night to speak out on the new casino and hotel complex proposed for a vacant site next BC Place.
The owners of the Edgewater want to triple the size of the casino and move it away from the waterfront location at the Plaza of Nations to an empty lot next to the exit ramp for the Cambie Bridge.
Before the hearing began, opponents rallied outside city hall shouting, "No casino. No casino." Many said they feared social problems created by gambling addiction would get worse.
Noisy crowd airs views
There were 162 people on the speakers list, but only a handful got to speak at the rowdy hearing.
Amir Ali Alibhai, who spoke for a group called the Alliance For Arts and Culture, said his group was opposed to the expanded casino.
"We want a city that's well-planned, economically and environmentally sustainable, compassionate, socially-cohesive and expresses its identity through its built and natural environment," said Alibhai.
"The largest destination casino in western Canada plunked in our downtown core is not part of our vision," he said.
Robert Harrison of the Canadian Auto Workers, local 3000, which represents casino workers, told the council to approve the project, "and to not abandon the 1,900 families who would benefit from jobs which make it possible for them to house, clothe, feed and educate their children."
Charlene Baker says she's worried about her job at Edgewater Casino if expansion plans don't go ahead.
"That's my biggest fear, I don't want to be homeless," said Baker.
Councillors speak out
Council has to decide on several issues, including rezoning the proposed site, the relocation of the existing Edgewater Casino business, its expansion and a variety of other bylaw issues.
The proposal, which is being put forth by the BC Pavilion Corporation, which operates BC Place on behalf of the government, and Paragon, which operates the existing casino, has had the support of both the provincial government and city hall.
But on Monday some city councillors expressed concerns about the plan, including Councillor Kerry Jang who criticized the B.C. Lottery Corporation's approach to gambling addiction.
President Michael Graydon said the BCLC only focused on getting the message out about gambling responsibly, but Jang thought that didn't make sense.
"Don't you think your head is in the sand, saying, 'Well, we'll talk about responsible gaming, but we won't talk about problem gambling?'"
The new casino complex is expected to generate about 3,200 direct jobs during construction, and up to $130 million a year in revenues for the province once it is completed, according to its supporters. The plan also includes two hotels, several restaurants and retail spaces.
The hearing is scheduled to continue on Tuesday night at 7:00pm.