Mega casino vote will test Vision Vancouver's solidarity

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

40 comments

slot machines 2.jpg
Will Vision Vancouver win or lose in upcoming mega casino debate

UPDATE on Saturday Feb 19: Yet again, the public hearing for the mega casino has been postponed. It will now be heard on March 7th. We'll be digging further to find out why there are so many delays in this process. Is there division in Vision? Fellow blogger Frances Bula is now referring to this as a "mess".

On Monday Mayor Gregor and his Vision caucus will be making a pivotal decision regarding the future of the city. After decades of heated debate with countless people being opposed, it would appear that Vancouver will finally be getting its mega downtown casino. Paragon Developments is proposing a massive new hotel/casino project adjacent to the newly renovated BC Place. It will have up to 1500 slot machines and will be similar in size and scope to the previously rejected Wynn mega casino project proposed back in the 90's.

Why do I think Vancouver will be getting its first downtown mega casino next week? It’s simple, Allen Garr from the Courier said so. If anyone knows how Vision will be voting on any particular issue, it’s my good friend and VanCity director Allen Garr. He wrote in his column last week that the horse was out of the barn on this whole gambling debate and it’s time we just live with the new reality of a mega casino. I think he’s probably right.

Let me declare that I do occasionally gamble. I like purchasing the odd LottoMax, 649 and BC49 and dream of what it would be like to win that kind of money. Just imagine the perks, the privileges and the power! If I won the big one I could even afford to give our CityCaucus.com staff a cash bonus now and again.

Every few months or so, I also pick up my 82-year old mother-in-law and head down to the casino in Burnaby to make my voluntary $20 contribution to provincial government coffers. So while I’m no hardcore gambler, I do understand how it can be somewhat entertaining.

On the other hand, I also realize that governments are increasingly becoming addicted to gambling revenues. Back in the 90’s when former NDP Premier Glen Clark first tried to introduce slot machines in BC, I was part of a coalition that fought hard against it. I could see where this was all going, and how the introduction of slots and video lottery terminals would result in the government pushing more casinos into even more communities. It was also apparent how hardcore gamblers would take their addiction home and negatively impact the lives of their loved ones. 

 Now fast forward to next week where the eight left wing politicians that make up the Vision caucus are going to have to decide whether Vancouver will finally get its Las Vegas style casino downtown. Rumours are swirling that this has been one of the most difficult decisions some Vision politicians have had to make since they took power just over two years ago. Backyard chickens and separated bike lanes are a cake walk compared to approving the expansion of gambling.

Complicating matters is the fact that COPE will in no way support this proposal, while the NPA’s Suzanne Anton is unlikely to cast her ballot in that direction either. I suspect the three opposition councillors will do what they should do and oppose this proposal.

This issue even seems to have galvanized a number of NPA stalwarts such as former councillor Peter Ladner and rumoured council candidate Sean Bickerton. They are helping to build a coalition which is fighting hard to convince Vision to vote no, but at this point all their efforts look a bit futile. As they say, too little too late.

At this stage although there may be some cracks appearing in the Vision armour, I suspect their caucus whip (aka Mike Magee) will get enough votes to ram this through next week. However, with over 80 speakers lined up to voice their opinion, it will make for a lengthy public hearing process. But at the end of the day, I simply can’t see how Mayor Gregor and his merry band can turn down the prospect of $23 million in new revenue for the City. We must also not forget that Vision Vancouver founder and former mayor Larry Cambpell serves as a director for a gambling company. Not sure if he still wields any influence within the party, but if he does, we likely know which way he'd want the Vision team to vote.

Although I don’t often agree often with Allen Garr when it comes to politics, I think he’s right when he hints that this is a done deal. After all, if the Vision doesn’t approve it, those gambling profits will simply flow out of Vancouver and into Richmond or Coquitlam’s coffers. Remember, it was all that gambling money that afforded Richmond’s Mayor Malcolm Brodie the luxury of signing a sweetheart deal with CUPE which provided them with 18-percent in salary increases.

The debate about whether we should have slots or not has come and gone and the battle has been lost. So I believe the debate next week should focus primarily on whether this is a good land use decision for the City or not. I don’t think it should be about the moral or social implications of gambling.

It will be interesting to see how the Vision caucus handles one of its biggest tests so far. I suspect people like Councillors Kerry Jang and Andrea Reimer will have a tough time raising their hand when the time comes for the votes to be recorded. But like obedient soldiers in the war for social change, I’m prepared to bet a few bucks that they’ll support the Mayor’s office agenda. Vision will ensure that Vancouver's new Vegas-style casino will break ground within a few months.

- Post by Daniel

40 Comments

Are you giving odds? Seriously, the whole thing illustrates how far Vancouver's collective consciousness has shifted over the last couple of decades. I imagine Steve Wynn will spit out his coffee when he hears about this.

Do you not think it worth mentioning that the Provincial Government through the crown corporation “Pavco” initiated the casino proposal?

Opponents to the project – and I am one - have uncovered political corruption, backroom deals, faulty bidding processes and serious allegations of conflict of interest. It also appears that casinos are the favored tool for criminal gangs and illegal operations to launder their ill-gotten gains – a lot of the traffic on the backs of mostly poor, desperate gambling addicts.

The new, almost $500 million stadium dome replacement could be the next provincial government’s BC Rail scandal – no competitive bids, former chair of the Lottery Commission taking a directorship of the gaming applicant, cutting promised gaming money to charities while subsidizing the gaming applicant. The casino is inextricably linked to the stadium. The potential for contamination is great.

If Paragon is offering the city $23 million (or $17 million) to seal the deal, how much is it really worth? This is a pittance compared to the total costs – and potential windfall profits.

Do we really want to entrust Vancouver’s future to Paragon - four previous projects: three one-story buildings on remote native reserves?

One of the reasons that Garr says that Vision Council might pass it is if they don’t the Province will just go ahead and do it themselves. Well, what if Vancouver does turn it down and Victoria wants to move ahead? Then it could be the next HST controversy?

Steve Wynn’s Las Vegas mega-casino developer was turned down war a waterfront casino in Vancouver in 1994. Right decision then, right decision now.

This one vote could be political suicide for some Council members...

I'm informed by one of our readers that the "new" money from the mega casino is actually $7 million, not $23 million as I wrote in my post.

The mega casino will provide the City of Vancouver with $23M in total revenue, but only $7M of that is considered over and above what the Edgewater Casino currently provides.

Here's what Paragon is promising:
 
 $6  million  per  year  to  PavCo,  adjusted  for  inflation  after  a  decade,  through  the  70-­‐year  lease  of  the  BC   Place  site.  These  funds  are  intended  to  offset  the  $563-­‐million  renovation  of  BC  Place,  an  amount  that   can  essentially  be  considered  spent.  
 $5.5  million  per  year  to  the  City  of  Vancouver  through  property  taxes (not sure if this is from the entire development, or just the casino).  
 $224  million  per  year  to  the  province  of  British  Columbia,  through  the  share  of  gross  gaming  revenues   that   all   gaming   facilities   in   British   Columbia   provide   to   BCLC   as   a   term   of   their   operating   service   agreements.  
 $23   million   per   year   to   the   City   of   Vancouver,   through   the   share   of   gross   gaming   revenues   that   all   gaming   facilities   in   British   Columbia   provide   to   their   respective   host   municipalities   as   a   term   of   their   operating  service  agreements.  
 $300,000  per  year in community grants.

This is based on a whopping 470% increase in Edgewater's (once-failed) business due to the expansion. Burnaby's Villa had a comparable $180m makeover and increased its business by 6%.

These promises are fantasy numbers.

 

This project needs much more public scrutiny than it is getting. So much to say, but just for starters...

Despite public statements that the taxpayer carries no risk and the casino will pay for the roof, the BC Lottery Corporation typically pays approximately 42% of development costs for its casino properties.

Does that include ancillary structures such as parkades and hotels? It would appear so--the sum paid to private developers over the last several years exceeds $400 million--well in excess of 42% of casino construction alone.

How much public money will go into this proposed new $450 million project? We don't know, but the BCLC has budgeted $346 million in capital spending for the next 3 fiscal years. Alberta, which captures 27% higher net revenue than we do, averages about $40-60 million annually in cap spending. So our capital spending budget over the next 3 years is about $200 million over what seems to be necessary to operate a comparable business to BCLC (and one that produces a MUCH higher net take to government AND charities).

Funny, by sheer coincidence, 42% of $450 million (the entertainment complex construction budget) is $190 million.

Somebody should ask the $190 million question: How much public money is the BCLC putting into this project that has been hidden from public view?

And we are going to hand this over to a US company that specializes in First Nations casinos in small markets and truck stops?

The first Edgewater went broke. Hastings Park wobbles along surviving on subsidies. Yet somehow we imagine this project, with a casino floor the size of two football fields, is a winner. Really? 24 hours a day, including winter months, we're going to fill 114,000 sq ft with gamblers?

We need some grownups in the room on this deal, and fast.

...ps: Our coalition, whose supporters include Bing Thom, Senator Pat Carney, and Jean Swanson, is not partisan. But we do hope that our civic leadership will join the wave of public opinion that is rising up by the hour, and vote unanimously AGAINST this absurd proposal.

CityCaucus is a developer-friendly blog. This is why your "it's a done deal" stance is actually just wishful thinking.

I wish you the best of luck. The coalition against this casino expansion is the broadest, most determined coalition in memory. Council will have a very hard time approving the proposal and allowing the BC govt to ram this bankrupt proposal down the throats of Vancouverites. Vancouver doesn't need its urban planning done by these clowns in Victoria. As for the casino, you can't even call it urban planning. It's urban blight before it's even built. And I'm not even talking about the architecture, which is a whole other story. In the comedy vein.

The research is pretty clear: there's very very little relationship between "gambling" as in slot machines and "gambling" as in your self-declared conflict of interest.

Sure there are people for whom scratch and win is a gateway drug, but it's a very low proportion.

Slot machines are seductive, addictive and *designed* to seduce your money out of your wallet. They are bad, and deserve no place in a society that cares about its citizens. They prey on the weakest and most desperate members of society.

Margaret. I admire your passion, but I sat through the sham "public hearing" on bike lane expansion. This council will mock and intimidate each speaker and then vote exactly the way they would have anyway. I wish you luck. But this council's track record on "public hearings" doesnt leave me much hope for your cause.

Does CityCaucas have a position on this issue? What do you think the NPA's position should be?

Now what's going on? I checked the numbers I posted ($23m revenue share gain to the city) which reflect some of the public comments out there about the widespread economic benefits, but then I checked the city report. The only economic benefits it cites are: "The current amount of revenue received by the City from the Edgewater Casino is $7 million a year. Approval of the proposed casino expansion component of the hotel/entertainment/casino complex will generate an estimated $17 million in revenue to the City annually."

That's a $10m gain, not $23m. And it assumes Edgewater will meet its targets, which the existing Edgewater didn't.

Agreed Peter those are the figures I heard quoted at that particular council meeting.

@ Margret lets not forget this slippery slope started back in the days of Larry Campbell...Vision.

Global reported this morning that the meeting covering this topic scheduled for Monday, Feb 21. has now been moved to March.

Correct. Looks like it's now been moved twice..in the last 24 hours.

Something is not right.

If Peter Ladner is against it then I am for the casino. Ladner was a total failure as a Councillor and even worse as a Mayoral candidate.

Wonder how will Tim Stephenson vote on the Casino?

Surely a former church minister cannot support it for moral reasons.

Will he take the high ground or not?

My impression is that the Provincial government is lobbying hard for this casino. Is this correct? And if so, why?

Good thing I read your comment Max, I worked the cold weather shelter this morning so I missed the news...

I'd have been sitting at City Hall Monday night rather agitated...

I guess those prominent people Frances Bula referred to in her post, that oppose, must have made Council want to take more time to think...

Funny how when the "learned" people opposed high rises in the downtown eastside, Vision folded like a deck of cards.

Once again now that the "learned" are opposed to the casino, they are trembling in their boots.

These guys sure are afraid of what the elites could do their chances of another majority government.

unbelievable
Why isn't a proper "Expression of Interest" being conducted so that all interested competent experienced parties can be given consideration at the same time. If the City has decided it MAY be interested in a significant gaming/entertainment/whatever development all potential groups should have a chance, this is called competition, which would lead to the best outcome for the taxpayers. If no proposal is deemed to have enough merit to proceed to further discussions and perhaps negotiations then this can bring the whole business to a close. Why is Paragon being given an "exclusive" right to be the proponent. I think these people at Cuty Hall should stick to bicycles and chickens.

@Paul I take your point, but the bike lane thing didn't happen right before an election - and was its opposition this large? If Vision can get out from under Edgewater/PavCo's bullying (and lawyers?), they will vote this thing down. Or choose to go to referendum. Too many Vision voters are saying that if Vision votes for this casino, it'll be a dealbreaker.

Informative discussion below.

One of the aspects of this matter which should also be on the table is where are the highest and best use studies from both the City and Province which justify the selection of this proposal? What are the financial and social tradeoffs which are relevant? What other uses could be located here instead? What is the difference in revenue to the City and to the Province?

Why has the Vision Council been facilitating this proposal as it's wound its way through the planning approval process? Note -- the further along it goes, the more difficult it becomes to turn it down. If they had concerns, why were these concerns not raised much earlier? Why has the evolutionary process of this proposal, especially the important decisions, been taken behind closed doors and then the detail kept form public view?

There is much to be answered here. Is this going to be another spot rezoning gone wrong attempt which will be deferred for further study reporting back next December so the new Council can deal with it?

Nice to see your thoughts Mr Barboulet. Hopefully you'll comment more often.

So, if the Province will over-ride the Vision Council if they do have the courage to say no after deferring to date, what's the downside for the Vision Council? They stand up to the Province, but they'll have to agree with a lot of NPA types, including me, that this was not a smart idea, albeit a bit late in the game to be saying so.

One does wonder what Councillor Stevenson is thinking about these days. It will be interesting to find out.

Stephen, I have previously stated as an NPA Candidate for Council that I am opposed to this proposal. Councillor Anton, as a siting Councillor, is not allowed express her opinion while the rezoning application is in process. Sean Bickerton, a Council Candidate in 2008 is opposed also. Peter Ladner is opposed.

On the other hand Larry Campbell, the current Vision Council's former flatmate, I understand is a Director of Great Canadian Casinos. What was/is his position on this proposal then and now?

As Bill notes, I'm proud to be one of three co-founders of the Vancouver Not Vegas! coalition, which crosses all political boundaries.

While the province can overrule the city on zoning, the Province has no authority to overrule the city on gambling licenses within city limits.

Only the City of Vancouver has the vested power and authority to approve each of the 900 new slot machine licenses and 75 new gaming tables being requested by Paragon in addition to the 600 slots and 75 tables already in place at Edgewater.

I find it highly ironic that the city smashed all of the Chinese gambling dens in living memory of people who have written me recounting their frightened memories of the event as children, yet here we are inviting an American company to open the largest gambling den in western Canada just 6 blocks away.

As Peter Ladner has detailed, the economics don't make sense, and as Sandy Garossino has outlined in detail, serious allegations of insider trading and double dealing have been raised that should automatically trigger an investigation by the Attorney General responsible for regulating this industry.

We will have more than 100+ speakers out to address council on the subject on March 7 at 7:30pm, and we expect council to vote down this massive expansion.

Nothing about this project passes the sniff test and none of the numbers add up.

Please join us at dontgamblevancouver@wordpress.ca

Sean,

Bill continues to raise the involvement of Great Canadian Casinos, while Peter Ladner talks about Evergreen Casinos.

You, have claimed:

"...I find it highly ironic that the city smashed all of the Chinese gambling dens in living memory of people who have written me recounting their frightened memories of the event as children, yet here we are inviting an American company to open the largest gambling den in western Canada just 6 blocks away...."

that "an American company" is involved.

Can you please clarify?

GCC's majority owner, who happens to hold $230 Million of their stock, lives in Vancouver....how is GCC American. if that is who you refer to?

If it isn't, is it you or Bill spreading mis-information?

I'm not for or against the proposal, however I see that you, Bill and Peter Ladner all are quoting varying information, that does nothing to help your credibility on the issue.

If you're going to start an opposition group, and use that as a spring board to run for council, ala Gregor did with the Cambie St. merchants, the least you can do is get your facts straight.

We don't need more members of city council like we have now. Sadly, that's all I'm seeing with the approach you've taken here.

Sad

Another casino? Great. Just what we need in Vancouver: More addiction!

What an absolutely pitiful idea.

Dear Sad,

To clarify on a couple of issues:

1. The coalition contesting the proposed expansion of Edgewater Casino is broad-based and non-partisan. It includes the False Creek Residents' Association (of which Sean Bickerton is the designated representative), Strathcona Residents Association, Grandview Woodland Area Council, the Alliance for Arts and Culture, and the BC Association for Charitable Gaming.

Our supporters include Jean Swanson, Yosef Wosk, Bing Thom, retired senator Pat Carney, Dean Peter Elliott of Christ Church Cathedral, as well as eminent academics with expertise in the field of gambling and related policy issues.

In other words, we unite on this issue as concerned citizens coming from all points on the political spectrum.

2. The American company in question (re: the Edgewater Casino expansion application), is not Canadian owned Great Canadian Casinos, but Paragon Gaming, based in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are Canadian registered subsidiary companies associated with Paragon Gaming, however, the parent company has made no secret of its US ownership.

I hope this helps.

@ Bill:

Funnily enough, I too thought that Vision is trying to either:

1) make this an election point

2) push it far enough ahead that one way or another, they don't have to deal with it or take the heat

@ Sean:

'I find it highly ironic that the city smashed all of the Chinese gambling dens in living memory of people who have written me recounting their frightened memories of the event as children.'

***********

Sean, as someone has volunteered in the Gore/E. Hstings area, and has stood late at night waiting for a bus in that area, I can tell you these 'gambling dens' are still active as are the ones operating in the back of various shops on Commercial.

And lets not let out the moving underground night/drink clubs the Russians run. (They involve a cover charge and a pat down)

Hi Sad,

Sandy and I are designated spokespeople for the VancouverNotVegas! coalition, and as Sandy confirms, Paragon Gaming is an American-owned company.

The coalition we began last November with Lindsay Brown of Stop BC Arts Cuts has grown immensely as other prominent citizens have joined the cause, and we welcome their voices.

There are now over 180 people signed up to speak to the casino hearing as mentioned in an earlier post, and we're looking forward to educating council on the issues at the public hearing on March 7 at 7:30pm.

very best,
sean

I see the UFC has announced that it will be hosting another event in Vanouver this June. (11) UFC 131.

I am sure this will cause yet another uproar and a rise up in arms against the evils facing Vancouver and all of her citizens.

FYI, I am an NPA supporter.

Yet, I do not support all decisions made or being made by council members new or old.

Sad:
You quite rightly question differing estimates of revenue to the city from this project. That's a reflection of the public obfuscation around the economic benefits of this project.

I have tried to find an official accounting of the projected revenues by the proponents. There's no website, no accounting firm report, no links in Paragon CEO Scott Menke's speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, no data posted anywhere I could find.

I'm not making up numbers, I'm passing on the best I can find.

The city's latest report to council cited an additional $10m in revenue expected, compared to $7m today, with no explanation of the basis for that estimate.

(Interesting that a 2004 Ipsos Reid survey for the city found that supporters of the original Edgewater casino believed “the City of Vancouver would receive an estimated $10 to $12 million a year in additional revenues from this casino” (67%). That number turned out to be $7m today-- not what was promised. Lesson here?)

The $23m figure I cited from an off-the-record leaked source looks like it could be based on a total $17 revenue-share from the New Edgewater plus $5.5m in taxes from the entire New Edgewater complex of hotels, restaurants etc.

That's total revenue to the city, not an increase, and based on previous evidence, the revenue-share estimate is probably inflated.

Why isn't this essential information, the only valid reason for the city's support for this project, public anywhere?

Why are the proponents so silent in all this?

Sad, You have confused me. What I said below is:

"On the other hand Larry Campbell, the current Vision Council's former flatmate, I understand is a Director of Great Canadian Casinos. What was/is his position on this proposal then and now?"

I made no suggestion that GCC was involved in the current Casino spot rezoning application. Can we agree that the proponent is Paragon, an American company? I did, however, see a possibility of Vision perhaps having a soft spot for gambling. Larry Campbell, the guy who started Vision is a director of GCC, so I suppose he thinks gambling is a good thing. Do his former colleagues? We'll know soon, unless of course they duck again.

Bill, Sean, Peter,

Thank you for clarifying. (Bill) now at least I understand your bringing GCC into the conversation.

There is a ton of conflicting information and it would probably help to draft some sort of list of talking points based on realities that are not as confusing as is presently the case with the varying jumps from "here" to "there".

If you plan to use the Vision model for keeping people in the dark through confusing and misleading messaging....continue as you were.

If you want to make a real impact, find a PR professional who supports your cause and start some planning meetings.

Rounding up angry folks to carry pitch forks, torches and guns only works if you're a HST/recall petitioner....that's what your movement is right now, even if you refuse to admit it.

You're going to require a lot more organization to beat this....unless it's really just all about scoring political points.....if so, then continue as you are.

On the flip side, I'm not a fan of GCC but, and a big BUT, I do believe that if they were to run this specific casino, it would be more likely that the revenue numbers would be hit. This group doesn't have a hope in hell.

And something else to think about: be glad the casino is being considered for the site that it is....frankly the Squamish could plop in a nice sized mutli-floor casino on their land right beside the Burrard bridge, opposite of their tacky billboard and no one would be able to say "boo".

G, I don't think Bing Thom, Peter Ladner, at this point, Sandra Garossino are trying to score political points. They believe in the position they've taken in this matter. Even those of us currently active in the political process believe in it as well.

Some of us in politics are there because we have beliefs first and we want to see them realized. The scoring of political points is a part of that process as well, however, that is secondary. The tit for tat point scoring is really just a different kind of conversation whereby information is shared, points of view considered, and at times conclusions arrived at. We often do similar things here.

What's wrong with pitch forks? Vision set the rules and timing of this process. A PR campaign takes time and money. IMO they're not necessary. Vision blinked with the DTES. Will they do it here again?

There is no partisan angle in this fight. It was the NDP that legalized gambling in the first place in the province, but the BC Libs that have overseen unbridled expansion across the province, and that have failed to regulate the industry while allowing BCLC officers to personally profit from payments to them by gambling companies.

It was COPE and the founder of Vision that first allowed slots downtown Vancouver, but NPA councillor votes that helped enable that change.

And today it is a Vision council considering approval of the largest casino in Western Canada.

Our coalition crosses all political lines both provincial and civic, and the people affiliated have come from all walks of life.

As to G's comment, Bill McCreery is not part of this coalition and doesn't speak for it.

But he's certainly entitled to express his own opinion, and him doing so doesn't transform a well-organized effort into a crowd with pitchforks. To the contrary, we are very well-organized, which is why we've changed Paragon's and BCLC's response from "its a done deal" to "No Comment!"

Leading citizens of the city from all walks of life have embraced our cause because we are asking intelligent questions that should have been asked by government before this was forced on the city.

And we're looking forward to explaining to city council on March 7 at 7:30 pm why they should vote No against this massive expansion.

My "pitchfork" comment was not meant to be literal. I was simply attempting to suggest that both the "well-organized effort" of the "coalition" can work together with large numbers of very upset citizens. I've been in one of the hot seats, and I know the kind of pressure that puts on an elected person. At the least it should make Councillors think long and hard about what they're doing and why.

I really like the idea of a referendum. This is a divisive issue and goes directly to the heart of the future of our city. I think a referendum is a compelling idea. It is also a deal breaker for me, if Vision supports this I will likely not support them in the next election.

While I hear what you are saying, and have to agree, it is lamentable that it has come down to any member of the public calling for a referendum.

It means that public consultation in the planning process has been an abject failure in this case, as something as basic as approved uses for a False Creek North neighbourhood plan should have been flushed out with public input long ago. Coupled with the seemingly numerous spot rezonings in this city that suggest there is no longer any 'plan', and any sense of community input is out the window in favour of the quick $. This is leaving the public disgruntled and frustrated, but at least they are standing up and being counted now.

But heck, don't those big new towers with the fuzzy green hedges on the roof look oh so pretty !!!!

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