Column: Rolling the dice on casino location
A proposal for a casino in a rural area of South Surrey is puzzling, but it seems to have a fair bit of support from the business community.
The casino, convention centre and entertainment complex is proposed for a 25-acre rural property at 10 Avenue and 168 Street. It is not near other urban land. It would be part of a 200-room hotel complex. The operator would be Gateway Casinos, which operates the existing Cascades Casino in Langley City.
There is an existing hotel across Highway 99, and other business and urban residential areas not far away, but that area of South Surrey is rural. Not too long ago, there were several active agricultural operations in that area, historically known as South Meridian.
If South Surrey is to have a casino, and there may well be enough business there for one, it should be in an urban area, on a major arterial road and within walking distance of a transit route. This project does not meet any of those criteria.
This casino is planning to move the existing licence from a casino in Newton, which Gateway took over after council approved expansion by a 5-4 vote. Council members aren’t enthusiastic about the Newton casino, situated in an older mall, but several love the idea of it moving to South Surrey.
Gateway says the biggest demand in the Surrey area is for an entertainment centre, as there is little entertainment available in the area.
While I take issue with that sweeping statement, given the many entertainment opportunities in Surrey and White Rock, it is true that the type of acts that most casinos offer rarely come to Surrey. Many of them come to the three casinos just across the border, or to River Rock in Richmond or the Boulevard Casino in Coquitlam, which are the two best entertainment facilities among Lower Mainland casinos.
If there is that level of demand, a casino and entertainment complex makes sense – but in the right location.
At one time, Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce was opposed to the casino proposal, stating that it would cannibalize the existing Fraser Downs facility. That is a legitimate concern, but BC Lottery Corporation has assured Cloverdale business people that the two casinos can co-exist.
“All we’re concerned with is that Fraser Downs is the primary casino in Surrey, and they have assured us that it will be equal in size to the other one – which means it will be equal in profits,” said Brian Young, president of the Cloverdale chamber, in July.
BCLC does say that the two will likely attract a different audience, which is true. Those wishing to gamble on horse racing and visit a casino will go to Fraser Downs, while those seeking out more of an entertainment venue mixed with gambling would head to South Surrey – theoretically. A large convention centre is an advantage, and will be well-utilized.
However, the casino business in the Lower Mainland is close to saturation point, in my view. Gambling seems to have leveled off at many casinos and revenues to cities, which is the prime reason most councils will agree to host a casino, have evened off.
The South Surrey location is also very close to the border and not far from U.S. casinos, which do attract a lot of Canadian gamblers. Whether it can keep more of them on this side of the line is debatable. Can they attract enough new gamblers to help boost the take that Surrey will receive? That is also questionable.
Obviously, no proponent is going to build a facility that isn’t likely to turn a profit. However, it appears that the two main casino companies in B.C. – Gateway and Great Canadian – want to keep building more of them.
If there is a market for more casinos in Surrey, fine. But a new casino, entertainment centre and hotel needs to be located in an appropriate area.
It will be interesting to follow this debate as it continues, through public meetings and other discussion.
Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.