Ethnic focus for casino foe

Lawyer says proposed project will be ‘devastating’ to ethnic groups

As Surrey city council prepares to hear from the public on a casino proposed for South Surrey, a Vancouver lawyer is predicting the views of those opposed may fall on deaf ears.

“I think they may go ahead with this anyways,” Bernie Simpson said this week. “My prediction is an attempt will be made to push this through anyways.”

A public hearing on the South Surrey casino licence, which is expected to draw a large crowd, is set to get underway at 7 p.m. Monday.

Simpson, a former Vancouver MLA who practises personal-injury law, said he is adding his voice – what he describes as “a very vigorous opposition” – to efforts aimed at preventing the casino because of perceived threat the facility poses to Surrey’s ethnic communities.

It is a group he says he became “very familiar” with during his time as MLA for Fraserview.

“I feel that this will be devastating to the ethnic communities, which makes up the majority of the population of Surrey,” Simpson said of the casino/hotel complex proposed for 168 Street at 10 Avenue.

“Many of them have come over from India or other countries and they’re under a considerable amount of strain, as is evidenced by the domestic violence… the issues with drinking, the issues with the gangs. So the last thing they need is this type of project going into their community.”

Simpson said he led a successful fight against a casino proposed for the Vancouver waterfront in 1993-’94.

He has not signed a petition opposing the South Surrey casino – and said he doesn’t believe anyone living outside of the city should – and is not touting his voice as the one that will make a difference.

“I think the voice of those within the various minorities will make a difference, the collective voice, and there’s every indication that that is happening,” Simpson said. “Any politician who ignores the concern of these very important minorities is doing it at their own risk. There will be a backlash at the next election.”

As a host city, Surrey stands to reap about $3 million annually in casino revenues.

If approved, the slot machines at the existing casino in Newton at 7093 King George Blvd. will be shut down. Whether the bingo hall at that location stays or goes would be up to Gateway Casinos, which will be responsible for an upgrade of the Newton site no matter what council decides on Monday, according to Surrey’s general manager of planning and development Jean LaMontagne.

– with files from Kevin Diakiw