Geller reflects on Vancouver's mega casino rejection

Post by Michael Geller in

17 comments

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Vancouver has put up to $1 billion in new investments and countless jobs at risk

As listeners to the CKNW Civic Affairs Panel know, I had considerable difficulty choosing one side or the other on the Casino debate. However, in the end, I felt (and it was as much a feeling as a belief) that given that Vancouver had already accepted a significant casino operation in the downtown; the casino/hotel/entertainment complex would complement the city’s tourism infrastructure and had been tied for years to the renovation of BC Place; the property had been ‘zoned’ for this use, and the size, height, bulk was in conformance with the Official Community Plan; and the proposal had the support of the Board of Trade and other similar organizations because it would bring economic activity and life to the area….I found myself being more supportive than opposed.

I must say my gentle support was also spurred on by some of the opposition. As one opponent said on CBC Early Edition, her opposition began because non-profits were not getting the money that had been promised by the province. Rick Cluff quite rightly said in response, “well isn’t that a provincial matter, rather than a municipal issue?” Yes, she said, but she subsequently had concerns about gambling addictions, the size of the building, etc. etc.

So I am not broken hearted that the project has been rejected. There were many other aspects about it that troubled me, that I have previously set out on on various blogs. However, I think it is worthwhile to speculate on what might happen next, both in terms of the future of this site, and where a major destination casino might land.

With respect to the latter, the Fourth Horeseman wrote on Frances Bula's blog:

stop listening to Michael Geller’s alarmist screed, please

I assume this is a reference to the fact that I did on one occasion report on CKNW that I had heard others suggest that a casino might locate on the Squamish lands at the South End of the Burrard Street Bridge. I emphasized that I had no first-hand knowledge that the Squamish Nation was even considering this, but added that Casinos often locate on native lands elsewhere.

Ironically, this might be a greater possibility now, because of two recent decisions….one, Council has rejected an expanded casino downtown; and two, the Squamish Nation band members have rejected changes to their land code that would have made it easier and more financially attractive to develop condominiums on their lands.ancouver.

Personally, if the casino is going to relocate to another site, I think there’s a greater likelihood of a major casino now being developed in Surrey, perhaps on the lands adjacent to King George SkyTrain Station. I say this since a major mixed use project including a casino was contemplated in the past for this site. It could happen….

Now as for the BC Place site, I’m troubled by another statement by the Fourth Horseman on France's blog:

that David Podmore said, as he has said for the last few weeks, that not expanding the casino will not affect the improvements at BC Place and that taxpayers will “not be stuck with the cost.

Which is a significant departure from what was first said.

What I heard David say was that the BC Place roof and other improvements would not be impacted by a rejection of the casino. Well this should be obvious to all, since the works are underway and cannot be stopped.

But I am confused by “taxpayers will not be stuck with the cost”.

The cost of the BC Place improvements will not be paid for by increased beer and hot dog sales. It was hoped that the sale and lease of the adjacent lands would be a major contributor to the cost. While the casino was only contributing a portion of the total cost, the amount was not insignificant.

Council and staff have said emphatically that they do not want to see more condos on this site. Instead, they prefer commercial activities that will create jobs. I agree with this position. But I am a bit stumped when it comes to what might be alternative uses.

Yesterday I was called by CTV who asked me about the future of this property. Might we see a major shopping centre? No, I said…pointing to the nearby International Village as an example of a failed major retail undertaking. What about hotels? Well, new hotels in Vancouver are not generally viable without some form of ‘subsidy’. Condominiums are the best way to subsidize a hotel, but we don’t want condos here.

An expanded casino might have subsidized two hotels, but I doubt whether we’ll see two hotels without the expanded casino. I do think hotel may be a viable use in the future, noting there is a hotel next to Rogers Stadium in Toronto. But it is a bit of a longshot, without some supporting uses.

So, unless there are sufficient development revenues, one way or another, taxpayers will be ‘stuck’ with the cost of the BC Place improvements….they may not be just Vancouver city taxpayers, but they will be taxpayers…that’s where the province and Pavco get their money!

A final observation. Earlier this year on CKNW, Frances Bula, Jim Green and I generally concluded that the casino expansion was a ‘done deal’. On two occasions we discussed it, an neither conversation generated any phone calls…so the topic was dropped.

A week later, I got a message from Pete McMartin asking me if I had heard anything about opposition to the casino. I told him that I was aware that Sean Bickerton and his False Creek neighbours had been opposed to the casino for some time, and were trying to organize something, but he noted this was ‘old news’.

Howevever, I am told that Bickerton brought on Judy Rudin who brought on Peter Ladner and Bing Thom. Sandy Garassimo was also actively drumming up opposition and soon many, many others started to sign on and the opposition gained momentum. Like the old Arlo Guthrie song, it morphed into a movement, and once it got going, it couldn’t be stopped. As I watched this happening, I was reminded of a book I read during the last municipal election….Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everyone: The Power of Organizing without an Organization.

It’s all about how social media are changing the way society operates. And the rejection of this casino is a perfect example. Now I can’t wait to see what will be the next big issue or cause to be driven by social media.

POSTSCRIPT: After writing these comments, I listened to the Mayor speaking to Simi Sara on CKNW's Bill Good Show, and listening carefully to his words, I think the province will be back with a revised, smaller casino proposal for the BC Place lands. That's right. It may not go to Surrey, or Squamish Lands. It's not so much what he said, but what he didn't say.

So here's my prediction. Having won accolades for opposing casino expansion, the Mayor and Council WILL ultimately approve a relocation of the Edgewater Casino to the BC Place site. Will it be expanded? Well maybe, just a little bit, but not enough to cause another furor. But it will be designed so that it can be expanded at some time in the future, when the dust has settled. Let's see if I am right.

- Post by Michael Geller. He is a Vancouver based architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer with four decades’ experience in the public, private and institutional sectors. Follow @michaelgeller or @CityCaucus on Twitter. He also regularly appears every Tuesday on the Bill Good civic affairs panel on @cknw radio in Vancouver.

17 Comments

With all due respect, casinos are losers for everyone BUT casino owners. There is no benefit to government coffers - full stop. For a really good read on it - please look at 'The Luck Game' by Robert Goodman, an expert on state-sponsored gambling in the U.S. All arguments for casino revenues for government come from studies commissioned and sponsored by casinos with an end result in mind.

There was as much smoke being blown about the necessity for this project as there were at all the 420 rallies combined. Does the construction industry lose 5500 jobs if the project is not built? Not if another project goes in that is more respectful of the zoning. Do local restaurants lose out because a casino is not built? No - because the casino patrons are not encouraged to eat outside the betting establishment anyways. And on and on it goes.....

Casinos don't provide government enough funds to offset their social costs in terms of policing, addiction, bankruptcies, etc. , nor do they stimulate businesses outside of their own premises. For once this council grew a pair and got it right - give credit where credit is due. Let's hope council does not relent later.

The COV should do a proper analysis and consultation when rezoning this site. There are many uses that could work here. All that happened is that the city eliminated one proposal that was ill-conceived, and should have never gotten so far in the process in the first place - for everyone's sake (including the casino owners). The city dod no one any favours taking it this far.

Why did it take the mayor so long to realize this proposal didn't fit into his image of a green city? If he really opposed this over a year ago (which I don't believe) he should have made that point clear to Paragon and staff before stringing them along for this long. What a terrible message he just sent to biz community.

Why did he waited so long? Because he counted on these jobs as part of his now legendary 'legacy' 20,000 'green' jobs. Call it public pressure and election year buddy! As for the casino jobs, yeah right they were full of...green$$$ LOL

My guess, Surrey will benefit from this project.

And a couple of years down the road, the finger pointing will start as to why Vancouver lost out...again.

So right now and as I understand it:
Vancouverites can't have;

1) the Molsen Indy
2) Casinos
3) MMA
4) whatever comes along that hits on someones sensitivites and they seek to ban it from the rest of us.

It seems in this city, the squeaky NIMBY wheels get the grease - all the time.

I am an NPA member but I do not support their actions against this.

As do others. I listened to the news prior to the vote: Peter Ladner was on-line and got lambasted by NPA supporters who openly stated they were emabarrassed they had voted for him.

You have a few in this city that say they speak for the majority - which is typical in Vancouver; and of any group trying to push an agenda, and sadly government bends to their cries.

This is not democracy. Not at all.

Right now, Vancouver's 'entertainment district' consists of nightclubs that cater to the 20's somethings. Nothing else. You head down Granville St. on the weekend and it is nothing but drugs and puke.

So we have population in this city outside of the 20 something range that is taking their dollars and spending it outside of the city because the city has nothing else to offer them but nightclubds and everything 'Asian' infusion restaurants.

Yes, let's keep that the norm - let's keep it boring and small town.

At one point in the 90's a New York paper referred to Vancouver as a 'village' - nothing has changed.

I agree with Max. Money laundering and problem gamblers are so urbane.

Bella:

Money laundering happens in many more
places that aren't 'casino'.

The casino, because of its largeness is an easy target, yet no one in Vancouver looks at what is happening in the restaurants, clubs, bars etc running under 'legal business licenses' in Vancouver.

How many back room gambling places are operating in establishments on Commercial Drive or in Chinatown - not exactly the best kept secret, yet the city looks the other way because they are small. They are still gambling dens that offer up the same supposed 'corruption' the anti-gambling groups are railing against and they are unmonitored and ungregulated. The city gets zero dollars from the places. So you either crack down on all gambling or you quit cherry picking what will become a political hot pot.

I still cannot believe that there are so many people in this city that are blind to what goes on in their own neighborhoods, yet, scream when a regulated body moves to build an establishment that will be policed and of which proceeds go to fund other social activites.

And I have posted this before: any city that will not accept this type of establishment, a casino, should get zero funding from the same. For the arts, cultural and social groups that cry they are underfunded by gaming grants - tough. Suck it up.

You want to bite the hand that feeds you - have at it, but expect nothing back.

I think it should be built in Surrey where a well thought out new downtown is under construction. Vancouver and its City Council is such a big Loser these days.

Nice summary, thank you. I have long thought that a large casino was bout the worst possible use for this land and I am delighted to see that the city has listened to the many people opposed to this very stupid deal. (And yes, I did take the trouble to crunch the numbers.) I suspect you are right that a slightly expanded version of Edgewater will end up on some part of this land. And I have no doubt that many other more creative and valuable uses will bubble up, especially if the city lets the market work and cuts the land into much smaller pieces. Mega development is pretty much always dumb development as it does not provide enough room for the market to work. I personally would like to see Vancouver experiment with a lot more mixed zoning in which industry, retail, distribution, education and living spaces jostle among each other. I have always enjoyed living in such places (in Boston, Montreal, Copenhagen and Tokyo) and I miss their liveliness and contrasts. I suspect that green & resilient cities will have less zoning rather than more and that functions now geographically dispersed will be brought together. Maybe this can begin to happen here!

According to an article by Michael Smyth in the Province, the Edgewater is moving into the new stadium.

@ Max: "any city that will not accept this type of establishment, a casino, should get zero funding from the same."

I agree with your statement, but am entirely opposed to the sentiment of your posts. Casinos are money-making propositions only for themselves. The 'contributions' they make to the city is for them the cost of doing business. Those contributions to the public purse do not in any way offset the larger cost to the public purse and the surrounding businesses having a casino costs them. This has been the subject of studies and cost analysis are available (see 'The Luck Game' by Goodman).

People who go to the casino do not spend their discretionary dollars outside said casino, so only the casino makes money. Public contributions do not offset policing costs, costs of gambling addiction (including the costs to other members of society who are hurt when a gambling addict can no longer pay their regular obligations), there is loan sharking, pimping, the works.

Governments who rely on casinos for revenue, and the US is literally littered with them, have not managed to cash in, because, as you infer, someone else down the road will try to entice gamblers to their community by building one there. Net result, glut of casinos, none meeting the projected revenues promised at the outset and none meeting their stated obligations.

And a casino is not the kind of business people are going to rally around in support of - 'Save our Casino' does not have a really good ring to it. All politicking by the 'Visionaries' aside, council got this one right and Vancouver is better off because of it.

If you don't believe casinos are a bad bet for governments and communities now, read Goodman's book. Zero funding for government and arts organizations in exchange for zero casinos in our community - damn good trade.

Hey Max, if you and all the other NPA supporters wanted this massive casino so badly, why didn't you show up at City Hall to express your desire to have it? The only people willing to do so were the employees of Edgewater because they were basically forced to do it.

This was the largest number of speakers signed up to speak about a single issue in Vancouver City Hall history. While you sneer at that as "NIMBYism" and "not democracy," a lot of others would beg to differ. This was a loud and clear message that far more people opposed it than you are willing to admit. Everyone from Linda Solomon to Alex Tsakumis hated the idea of a large casino in downtown Vancouver.

What I find discouraging are Vancouverites that are so gullible as to believe a bunch of millionaire casino peddlers from Las Vegas about how wonderful a massive casino would be right in the heart of Downtown.

I also don't understand the outrage over not getting a much bigger casino when there are already several casinos all around Vancouver and Richmond, including the Edgewater which can move to the new facility at its current size. Some people really are hell-bent on turning Vancouver into Vegas.

I have been following the conversation on Frances Bula's blog about what Mr. Podmore may, or may not, have said about the necessity of the casino supporting the improvements at BC Placeand when he may have said it.

From Michael Geller's editorial:

'What I heard David say was that the BC Place roof and other improvements would not be impacted by a rejection of the casino".

As I recall, as this fight went on, there was quite a lot of confusion and scrambling about from BCLC and PavCo as per just exactly how much of those improvements were going to be supported by payments from the larger casino.

Let's hear directly from Mr. Podmore on that. From this Friday's Courier article by Mike Howell:

'At a Feb. 10 Vancouver Board of Trade meeting, Podmore said Paragon's proposal was "very, very important to the business case for BC Place and generates a good portion of the capital that will be used to retire the debt that was taken on to rebuild BC Place".

So, it appears this project came full circle in about 2 months: from the concept of "necessity" to "the lack of this project won't impact us at all" when it comes to paying for the astronomical costs of BC Place.

Perhaps, this is all just "semantics?".

*wink*


Googly, to be fair, I think Mr. Podmore was responding to those who actually worried that maybe the roof wouldn't be finished if the casino didn't proceed.

I don't think there is any disagreement that the revenue from this casino was going to pay for a portion of the cost of the refurbishment of BC Place. Now the Province will have to find another development for the site, that may or may not include a smaller casino, to generate funds.

Without revenues from the sale or lease of development sites, the BC Place upgrades will have to be paid for by the Vancouver and BC taxpayers.... and maybe a 50 cent surcharge on the price of beer and hot dogs for the next 125 years!

It appears to me that the taxpayers were on the hook all along, Mr. Geller. The die was cast when PavCo (or someone) decided that the stadium was a funding priority in these rather interesting times.

Quite an animated discussion at a dinner party I attended last night, where people were grumbling about "a half billion dollars of improvements into a stadium? Why now? Who asked us?"

Well, no one did. Because BC Place comes under provincial authority and the citizens of Vancouver have no say. Nice and tidy that, eh? The govennment can then go ahead and fluff up the stadium and the taxpaers of Vancouver must support more gambling in order to pay for it. Or not pay for it. Or something like that. Oh, it's so confuing!

Another example of how our betters in government play a continuous shell game with taxpayers money. Threats are part and parcel of the ofering.

Given your comment about how the humble ball park frank might be employed to "pay" for these unasked for improvements, I am reminded about about another regime, from days gone by.

A regime that also had a bit of an edifice complex, and taxed the peasantry, wage earners and small businesses in order to live up to its profilgate ways. As allegory would have it, when told that the people had "no bread" (and presumably, fewer hot dogs), a member of the Crown responded: "Then let them eat cake."

Perhaps we will be reminded of this phrase, and our own Crown's follies, every time we look at that "crowning glory" that sits atop BC Place Stadium.

May we be heading into our own period of 'Enlightenment' here in British Columbia, where traditional institutions and their customs will be thoroughly scrutinized and made transparent, and where citizenry and public rights and enagagement actually mean something.

"Perhaps we will be reminded of this phrase, and our own Crown's follies, every time we look at that "crowning glory" that sits atop BC Place Stadium."

Googly, I'm told some people refer to it as our crown of thorns!

The Thought of The Evening

“This all ‘No Casino in Vancouver’ brouhaha, reminded me of a young couple who consistently continued to use ‘protection’ despite the gal being three months pregnant already. See, they were afraid not to get…twins!”

What did we expect?
When the city has a Lonely Goat as Chief Negotiator, it’s only natural the only product the Vision cheese makers know is...Goat Cheese.

Maybe, they should have rechecked their Old commandments, like this ones:

‘No VISION member shall sleep in bed with Developers…unless they are on the approved list of Developers.’

“600 slot machines, good
1500 slot machines, bad.”

“No Vision member shall mingle with the homeless…unless it’s part of a photo-shoot.”

“Olympic Village gambling, good.
Edgewater Casino gambling, bad.”

"No Vision member shall speak their mind out...unless the mikes are turned off."

"BC Bud is not a rolled up joint...is an environmentally minded friend from Hollyhock."

It could go on and on, many commandments...

Anyhoo.

Think Walmart.
Remember Walmart?
Years of neighbourly fighting. ‘They are the death of small business’...‘substandard low wages’ ‘human rights violations’… 'Sweatshop merchandising'...'unethical purchasing… in all fairness, no different in ethics and practices than the likes of Starbucks, Lululemon or Safeway, read the small print.

Remember Walmart?
They were not welcomed in Vancouver South. Then, listen to this… ‘the greenest’ Walmart building anywhere in the world, designed by a team of architects featuring Peter Busby was turned down for good in Vancouver… Oh, Really?

Bullshit soup for the masses.
Add a bit of time-lapse, mix a bit of luck with a Costco relocation to Burnaby, massage a bit the industrial zoning in Grandview/ Rupert/ Boundary Rd. area and Voila! Hocus Pocus...
Walmart is alive and well in Vancouver, in the old, painted over, and re-landscaped, substandard, dilapidated building … Suckers!

Same here, with the casino, only in downtown.And don't get me wrong, my name is on that petition, # 1311, check it out. I was too against the expansion, but that's it, the expansion. Period. The Casino is not going anywhere. Business as usual.

Michael Geller’s comment is right on, and way too nice. Telling it like it is, hmmm, is not good medicine for Vision supporters. The 1.05 minutes of late fame for our Mayor and some good UV exposure for a lot of people looking forward to vacationing in Hawaii this summer.

Paraphrasing Michael’s advice for Penny Ballem (real estate vs. medicine – LMAO on that one MG!) from an older post, I will too stop making juice at home if Mr. Mayor stops making speeches and giving advice on civic matters in public.

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Touche, mon ami.

A la prochaine fois...;-)

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