Other cities may get more slots if Vancouver casino blocked
The B.C. Lottery Corp. may push to expand gambling in cities like Surrey, Port Moody or Abbotsford if a giant and controversial casino expansion in downtown Vancouver next to BC Place is rejected.
CEO Michael Graydon stresses the corporation is committed to the 1,500-slot 150-table Edgewater casino plan but said other sites could be considered to tap an additional $300 million a year gamblers are believed capable of spending in the Lower Mainland.
"At this point, if the casino is not approved, then the lease on the existing facility is up in 2013 and we'll have to review our plans in regard to what options might lie ahead," he told Black Press.
"It may take Vancouver out of the equation," Graydon said. "So we would certainly need to look to other municipalities in the GVRD and surrounding area as potential options."
That could mean expanding existing casinos or slot-equipped community gaming centres, or building new ones, he indicated.
"Surrey has already approved a community gaming centre," Graydon said, noting that will be under construction soon.
"Port Moody has come to us looking for the opportunity to do some gaming," he added. "We have been approached by municipalities like Abbotsford for expansion of gaming in that market potentially."
Graydon said none of the potential alternatives would present an opportunity as "unique" and "phenomenal" as the site flanked by the two Vancouver stadiums and next to two new hotels.
Edgewater now earns close to $120 million a year and Graydon estimated the expanded casino's take would jump to $230 to $270 million.
Paragon Gaming, the proponent, would also pursue an aggressive marketing campaign to attract international players, he said, adding that could pull in another $100 million within a couple of years.
Graydon rejected suggestions the new Vancouver casino could drain gamblers and revenue from existing Metro Vancouver casinos, reducing the share of profits that flow to the host cities.
"We don't anticipate very much cannibalization whatsoever," he said.
Great Canadian Gaming, which runs River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond, has credited significant gains in patrons after the opening of the Canada Line, suggesting a vastly enhanced Edgewater might reverse some of that flow.
"Possibly," Graydon said. "There will probably be some River Rock customers and Grand Villa customers who decide they want to come and check it out."
But he said most of the gains should be from new gamblers already being attracted to the downtown entertainment district.
If just five per cent of fans at a B.C. Lions game came next door to the casino after a game, he said, Edgewater would be near capacity.
Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini denied his city has expressed any interest in opening a casino.
A local referendum several years ago to test voters' appetite found only 33 per cent supported the concept of a casino there, he said.
"Never since then have we approached anybody or brought the question forward because it simply wouldn't be accepted," Trasolini said. "It's not the activity our community sees with favourable eyes."
Trasolini said BCLC might have heard from a developer with an idea for Port Moody, but not the city.
It's far too early to speculate whether Surrey, which hosts Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino, would accept another casino, Mayor Dianne Watts said.
"That whole process has to go through BCLC, they are the governing body," Watts said.
It's her understanding the Lottery Corp. has no plans to add any more gambling in Surrey.
"As far as I know, in Surrey, with my discussions with BCLC, they have no intentions of expanding," she said.
The City of Richmond earned $11.7 million in 2009 from its share of casino revenue at River Rock – more than any other local city got from gambling.
Grand Villa host city Burnaby was close behind at $10.3 million, followed by Coquitlam (Boulevard Casino) at $8.8 million, Vancouver (Edgewater and Hastings Park) at $7.6 million, Langley (Cascades) at $6.7 million, New Westminster (Starlight) at $6.1 million and Surrey (Fraser Downs) at $2.9 million.
BCLC reported a total of $1.3 billion in revenue from casinos in 2009, with River Rock generating $225 million.
– with files from Kevin Diakiw