COLUMN: Location killed casino

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Surrey council made a well-reasoned decision in rejecting a casino licence for a proposed hotel and convention centre on 168 Street near 10 Avenue.

The decision, made just after 2 a.m. on Saturday, came after an exhaustive public hearing that took up most of council’s time on Monday night (Jan. 14) and again Friday night. It was the longest public hearing in decades in Surrey.

The final vote was 5-4, with Mayor Dianne Watts casting the deciding vote. Also opposed were Couns. Bruce Hayne, Marvin Hunt, Judy Villeneuve and Mary Martin.

It is worth noting that all nine members of Surrey council were elected as part of the Surrey First slate in November, 2011, and are generally in agreement on most items.

This was different, though. There were two solitudes of opinion and very little room for compromise.

The casino ignited a high firestorm of opposition from many nearby residents, the Semiahmoo First Nation, and those who oppose expanded gambling. On the other side were business groups, which want a convention centre and entertainment centre in Surrey, B.C. Lottery Corporation, the provincial government, and Gateway Casinos, the proponent.

A casino with an entertainment and conference centre could be a good thing for Surrey – but not in that location. A far better locale would be Whalley, in the midst of being rebranded as Surrey City Centre.

Suggestions that the casino would, by being located near the border, attract many Americans north seem unrealistic. There are numerous casinos within an hour’s drive of the border. Many of them advertise extensively in Canada, and all are competing for the same crowd.

The mayor suggested after the vote that the arguments of those who oppose the casino were persuasive. Asked if they were NIMBYs, she said no. She believes the location was a key reason for the opposition.

Watts had supported rezoning of the property several years ago, and said Tuesday her understanding was a hotel and convention centre would be built there, even without a casino. That seems highly unlikely now.

Provincial gambling minister Rich Coleman came out swinging after the decision, saying  B.C. Lottery Corporation would not work with Surrey on another site. His petulance is surprising, as is his role as campaign chair for a party which in 2001, vowed not to expand gambling.

Of course, the B.C. Liberals have done the exact opposite. The gambling scene in 2013 is completely different from what it was in 2001. The truth is, the government is addicted to gambling revenue, and Coleman is upset it won’t get quite as much as he had hoped.

The 5-4 split decision at council reflects both perspectives of the debate. My prediction is there will be another proposal for a casino, entertainment and convention centre, somewhere in North Surrey, within the next three years. Surrey council will approve it, and all the amenities that the business community has called for will come to pass.

If it is located in Surrey City Centre, it will be far better for the city than any project in a rural area near the border could ever be.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.


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