Opposition to Vancouver mega-casino pure political theatre

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Could a new mega-casino be heading to downtown Vancouver soon? You bet!

There are times having to watch Vancouver City Council can be very painful. Today was one of them. On the agenda was an item referring to a mega-casino being proposed for the newly renovated BC Place site. Compared to the kind of casinos found in Vegas, the Paragon proposal is nowhere near that scale. However, the fact it’s being built in downtown Vancouver is bound to stir up some emotions.

It’s worth recalling that casinos (sans the slot machines) have been around a long time in Vancouver. They were initially introduced as a way of helping to fund charitable causes and were quite small in scope. Sure there were poker and roulette tables, but they looked nothing like their American cousins down in Nevada.

Fast forward to the 1990's when NDP Premier Glen Clark decided that casinos were going to get slot machines as a way of keeping them "competitive" with casinos across the border. In reality, it also meant hundreds of millions in new revenue to fund health care and education. Back then the NPA and BC Liberal opposition worked alongside anti-gambling advocates to fight the NDP’s initiative and eventually they won the day – there would be no slots in Vancouver casinos, at least for now.

As each year passed, Vancouver’s non-slot casinos began to show their age. While suburban casinos with glitzy names and thousands of noisy slot machines began popping up in places like Richmond and Coquitlam, that couldn’t be said for Vancouver. More importantly, millions of dollars worth of new casino revenues also began flowing out of the city and into the suburbs to help fund their new programs and infrastructure.

Then in 2002 the NPA was kicked out of office and in came a new COPE government which took a radically different approach to gambling expansion. Under Mayor Larry Campbell’s (now a Director for Great Canadian Casino) leadership, his left-leaning colleagues finally approved the introduction of slot machines in local casinos. That decision effectively put an end to decades worth of opposition to "Las Vegas style" casinos in Vancouver. 

That’s why today’s debate on a new casino at BC Place was so painful to watch. One by one the Vision and COPE politicians got up from their seats to express concerns with gambling expansion. With a pained look on their faces, each began to ask "tough" questions about the impact a new 1500 slot casino/hotel complex might have in Vancouver. It was civic political theatre at its worst.

It’s hard to take these politicians seriously when they claim they have misgivings about adding a mega-casino to the downtown. After all, if Vision didn’t like mega-casinos, why did they approve slot machines in Vancouver in the first place? A sure fire way of preventing a Bellagio style complex from being built would have been to keeps slots out of the city – but that horse clearly left the barn years ago.

As the city staff report reveals, supporting a new mega-casino in downtown Vancouver would mean millions in desperately needed new revenue each year. The City currently receives about $7M per year from the Edgewater Casino, but stands to rake in over $17M if a new facility is built. Just imagine how many new separated bike lanes and curbside veggie gardens that could build.

Probably the most difficult part of the debate to stomach was the portion in which Vision Vancouver Councillor Heather Deal began wagging her finger at the Provincial Government. She went on and on about how evil they were for cutting back the percentage of gambling profits directed toward charity in the province. In particular, she pointed out how hard done by the arts community were due to all these "cuts".

Excuse me? But how can Deal stand up in the chamber with a straight face when her own Vision government cut funding to the arts in one of its recent budgets. Secondly, if the City supports the arts so much, why doesn’t it turn over ALL of the new $10M in new gambling profit to the Department of Cultural Services? It’s a decision that Deal has 100% control over, but somehow I doubt she’ll take the idea and run with it.

It should be noted that the Great Canadian Casino were generous donors to the Vision Vancouver Party. According to the Vancouver Sun municipal campaign donor database, they contributed over $10,000 to help them get elected.

Publicly beating up on the development of a new downtown casino might make for great theatre, but in the end, I predict it will get majority support from Vision Vancouver. Rest assured, the loss of $10M per year is something this or other cash-strapped civic governments can hardly pass up, regardless of the impact to the local community.

What do you think? Should Vancouver support a new maga-casino? Is this too little too late? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

- Post by Daniel

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