British Columbia

Vancouver says no dice to new downtown casino

Vancouver city council has voted unanimously to reject a provincial proposal to build the largest casino in Western Canada in the city's downtown.
Vancouver city council voted against rezoning for the Edgewater Casino expansion proposal on Tuesday.

Vancouver city council has voted unanimously to reject a provincial proposal to build the largest casino in Western Canada in the city's downtown.

City hall chambers were packed to overflowing Tuesday as the divisive debate headed the vote and Mayor Gregor Robertson spoke out against the casino.

In the end, council agreed that the negative impacts of increased gambling addiction and crime simply outweighed the potential benefits of more revenue and jobs.

Robertson said allowing the 74,000-square-metre entertainment complex "doesn't fit with Vancouver's global brand as the world's most livable city, as the green capital of the world, as a hotbed for innovation in clean and digital technology, in resource management.

"I personally do not believe the expansion of gambling is the right direction for Vancouver," he said to cheers from those in the gallery.

The city held eight days and nights of public hearings on the issue, before voting down the rezoning application that would have allowed Paragon to expand its existing casino at the new location.

The expansion, which would have included about 1,500 slot machines and two new hotels, had the backing of the provincial government, The B.C. Lottery Corporation, several unions and the BC Pavilion Corporation that owns the site and operates BC Place for the province.

But the city did leave the door open for Paragon Gaming to move the existing Edgewater Casino at the old Plaza of Nations site to the new location between the stadium and the exit ramp for the Cambie Bridge.

Paragon Gaming Co., of Las Vegas, has said that casino might be closed if the expansion wasn't approved and hundreds of casino jobs could be on the line.

Revenue and jobs touted

The proponents said the casino expansion would create jobs, attract money from wealthy offshore gamblers and inject millions into the economy in taxes and revenue.

But a coalition of residents, social agencies, health officials and retired senior police officers has mounted a vocal fight to stop the project, saying the costs to society are not worth the financial benefits.

Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Pat Bell professed to take the Vancouver decision in stride.

"The provincial government respects the process and Vancouver city council's decision," Bell said in a statement after Tuesday's vote.

"We are going to take a fresh look at options to develop this property. I have directed PavCo to work with Vancouver council and the community to ensure that any future decisions are in alignment with what the community wants."

Bell said the decision would not affect the timelines for the revitalization of BC Place.

"On Friday, Sept. 30, the BC Lions will host the Edmonton Eskimos under the new retractable roof —in front of thousands of spectators in the stadium and a national audience watching on television."

Paragon Gaming spokesman Scott Menke said the council decision does not change the company's expansion plans

"We are going to work hard and stay committed to finding that destination casino in the Lower Mainland," Menke said. "We think that was the vision of the BCLC and the province when we purchased it and we are going to remain committed to that."

With files from The Canadian Press