Surrey may have been dealt another hand at the table now that the B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) is eyeing south-of-Fraser locations for expanded gaming. But the city infuriated BCLC in January 2013, when it spiked a casino application on a split vote after a marathon public hearing.
The proposed entertainment complex at 10 Avenue and 168 Street was slated to include a 60,000-sq.-ft. gaming area, 200-room hotel and a 27,000-sq.-ft. convention and entertainment centre. The casino promised to bring in $3 million in revenue each year for Surrey as the host city.
Those in favour expressed the need for jobs, local entertainment and the necessity to keep local dollars in our economy.
After the casino defeat, then-BCLC president Michael Graydon said expressions of interest would go out to all other communities in the area. He said the BCLC would consider any new gaming applications – except from the City of Surrey.
The contentious vote caused a rift on city council, with four councillors who supported the casino plan taking the unprecedented move of sending out a press release explaining their vote.
In a joint statement, Couns. Tom Gill, Barinder Rasode, Linda Hepner and Barbara Steele explained their reasons for supporting the $100-million casino.
Some felt it would go down to the Semiahmoo First Nations property if defeated.
“This has been the most difficult decision I’ve made on council,” Gill said at the time. “I really do believe the Semiahmoo Indian band is going to cap something there in the next number of years. So the socio-economic issues are still going to persist in that area.
BCLC was fuming at the outcome.
“Surrey’s very difficult to deal with, unfortunately, because of what we’ve just been through,” Graydon said three years ago. “I just don’t feel we have a level of comfort in dealing with the city at this particular time based on what we’ve just experienced.”
He said he respected opposing councillors who clearly signalled their objections to a casino far in advance, but scolded then-mayor Dianne Watts in particular for casting the deciding vote against the casino after giving no sign of having second thoughts up to that point.
He said he was “dismayed” to read statements by Watts that she began harbouring doubts about the project.
“If that was so, I wish she would have respected our relationship enough to bring those concerns to the forefront,” Graydon said.
“She didn’t and we never really heard any concerns on this proposal.
All we heard was support going forward.
Days after the South Surrey proposal was defeated, Surrey council voted not to renew a temporary licence for penny slots at the Newton Square Bingo Hall at 7093 King George Blvd.
An observer who is close to the lottery business said a likely Surrey location would be near 16 Avenue and Highway 99, where it could pick up on the lucrative U.S. market.
He estimated Surrey would make anywhere from $6 to $8 million annually as host municipality.
“That buys a lot of police,” he noted.
That said, he doubted Surrey would see the casino, particularly after the bad experience with BCLC in 2013.
A more likely site south of the Fraser would be Delta, he said.
Fifteen years ago, Surrey created a gaming policy that opened the door to as many as three destination casinos.
That policy states that “gaming in Surrey is to remain restricted and is only to be considered if it is part of a ‘cluster of tourism’ type facility, which is regional/provincial in scope.”
• Each application must undertake a comprehensive neighbourhood impact analysis including problem gambling impacts.
• Each application must ensure adequate provision of resources and programs to deal with problem gambling impacts.
The policy also states that “the city’s share of revenues from casinos must not be allocated for the city’s normal general operating needs.”
Surrey so far has one casino at Fraser Downs Raceway, Elements Casino at 17755 60 Avenue.
A history of casinos in Surrey:
1988: Great Canadian Casino opens in Newton
1997: Great Canadian Casino introduces slots
1998: Slot machines are shut down in Newton after political pressure and court challenges
2001: Newton casino shuts down
2004: Slot machines added to casino at Fraser Downs in Cloverdale
2009: Casino zoning allowed for Newton at 7093 King George Blvd.
2012: Casino owner considers closing Newton Casino in favour of a larger facility in South Surrey
2013: South Surrey casino voted down on a split vote
2014: Surrey council asks to have slots removed from Newton