COLUMN: City set to roll the dice on casino

Surrey will send the proposal for a casino, hotel, theatre and convention centre in South Surrey to a public hearing on Jan 14.

While the additional opportunity for the public to be heard on such a major project is good, it is doubtful if council members will be any more enlightened by the time it ends.

In all debates of this type, there are two distinct perspectives and very little middle ground.

One side is in favour of the jobs and economic development that such a project brings, which will be significant. Gateway Casinos, the proponent, operates a similar facility in Langley City and it is a highly successful business. The convention centre and meeting rooms are busy almost every day, and the theatre regularly hosts entertainment. Hundreds of people work there.

Gateway is proposing a much larger theatre in South Surrey and it will be a regional draw. Some of the top entertainment acts that come to the Vancouver area now appear at River Rock in Richmond or the Red Robinson Theatre at Boulevard Casino in Coquitlam. There is no reason this theatre can’t attract similar acts, as long as the facility is large enough.

The casino itself will be the real money-maker for Gateway, and also for the provincial government, which is addicted to gambling revenue. Surrey will also gain from it, although the $4 million or so it could receive annually doesn’t amount to much in a large city like Surrey. In small communities, such a revenue infusion can  do a lot. Langley City basically pays for all its capital projects with gaming revenues.

All three business groups in Surrey have come out in favour of the casino project. The Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce, which initially had concerns, now feels the new casino won’t hurt Fraser Downs, which operates a casino in conjunction with the racetrack.

Opposed to the casino will be people with genuine concerns about gambling addiction and other social costs of a casino. While direct crime is not a problem at casinos, they are linked to other crimes off the premises, such as loan sharking.

Perhaps the biggest concern is how to deal with those who suffer from gambling addiction. While there is an “exclusion” program in place at B.C. casinos, most agree that it has loopholes which trucks can drive through. If someone really wants to get into a casino, they will find a way to do so.

Also opposed will be those who have concerns about the change in land use in what is now a rural area. Some live nearby and fear a loss of their lifestyle, while others have more general concerns.

I spoke with one nearby property owner the other day. He pointed out that land across the street from the proposed site is within the Agricultural Land Reserve, and an urban development will have a great impact on any possibility of farming. What is most likely will be added pressure to remove the land from the ALR and develop it as well.

He also has concerns about services to the site and traffic on 168 Street. It is currently a quiet country road and the 168 Street/8 Avenue intersection involves a very sharp curve.

All of these issues point to some genuine reasons why the location of the facility is questionable. A location on a bus route or very near an existing urban area would be better – but of course land costs more in such locales.

Ultimately, Surrey council will have to decide if that proposed land use is acceptable. Members of council are going to feel lots of heat, no matter which way they decide to vote.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.



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