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South Surrey casino by 2014: BCLC

Discussions are under way to close a Newton casino and open one in South Surrey instead. - Evan Seal/Photo
Discussions are under way to close a Newton casino and open one in South Surrey instead.
— image credit: Evan Seal/Photo

B.C.'s gaming group now says a new casino in South Surrey has a green light, depending on approval of city council.

On May 30, The Leader broke the story that the city, Gateway Gaming and Entertainment and the provincial lottery corporation were working on plans to shut down a casino at 7093 King George Blvd. in Newton in favour of a $100 million yet-to-be built facility in South Surrey at 10 Avenue and 168 Street.

On Thursday night, Jim Lightbody, B.C. Lottery Corporation's (BCLC's) Vice President of Casino and Community Gaming told The Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT) the South Surrey casino could be up an running by 2014 if council approves the plan.

LIghtbody bracketed his speech by talking about the importance of exercising social responsibility in how casinos are located, noting there are a lot of positives about the South Surrey locale.

The Newton property will close when the South Surrey location is ready, he said.

The Newton site has been fraught with controversy since it was first proposed by Surrey council.

It was the subject of a highly contentious public hearing in 2009, when gaming critics were pitted against not-for-profit organizations, which rely heavily on gaming revenues.

After a marathon meeting, council passed the gaming expansion in Newton on a five-to-four vote, even though it contravened the city's own gaming policy.

The company that won the rezoning later  flipped the property to Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, which is now at the forefront of the move south.

The promise of $25 million worth of improvements on the Newton property died with the change in ownership.

City councillors and the public said publicly they no longer wanted the Newton facility.

Meanwhile the South Surrey location – currently undeveloped green space – is the planned site for the $100-million development, including a 200-suite, four-to-five star hotel, 600-seat convention centre and casino.

The project is expected to bring 1,000 construction jobs and 500 full-time jobs when approved.

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said the board was pleased to hear the announcement.

"We are great proponents of additional banquet space, corporate, professional banquet space," Huberman said. "I think it's a good move."

Bottom line, she said, if it's the right development, it will be great for business and good news for Surrey.

"We need to have high-level acts, like the River Rock and Red Robinson Theatre (in Richmond) has to drive traffic into Surrey. We're going to be the largest city in B.C."

Some members asked whether South Surrey was the right location, or whether the city needed another casino, when there are casinos in Langley, Coquitlam and Richmond, Huberman said.

"But in my mind, we need to have something first class here in Surrey," Huberman said.

However, the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce isn't so enthused with the plan.

At its last meeting, the chamber voted unanimously to "support Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino as the primary casino in Surrey," Chamber president Brian Young said. "The business community in Cloverdale is highly dependent on this anchor to bring in, and keep the consumers in Cloverdale."

The Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce has requested a meeting with BCLC as soon as possible to address its concerns.

Mayor Dianne Watts told The Leader last month she won't be heartbroken to see the facility leave Newton.

"I just think that the Newton site was not appropriate, and I know that many of us struggled with that site, but supported it because the non-profits were (previously) getting the dollars," Watts said.

Twitter: @diakiw

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