Surrey is choosing not to the roll the dice on winning a casino.
In June, the B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) invited expressions of interest from Surrey, Delta, Tsawwassen First Nation and the North Shore for a community gaming centre.
BCLC estimates a new facility south of the Fraser would generate up to $50 million in annual revenue and would contribute up to
$3 million each year to the host city.
Delta has already indicated it is interested and has suggested a site near the Massey Tunnel – the Delta Town & Country Inn – as a good location.
On Monday night, Surrey council voted unanimously not to take part in the plan for a casino, pointing to the city’s 15-year-old gaming policy as why.
The Surrey Gaming Policy states that any casino must be “a component in a ‘cluster of tourism facilities’ such as a hotel with convention and meeting facilities, a Trade and Convention Centre, an entertainment centre” which are regional in scope.
Gambling in the Surrey and Delta areas only exists so far at Elements Casino in Cloverdale (formerly Fraser Downs) and Newton Bingo Country.
The latter facility does not meet the conditions under the gaming policy.
A condition under the BCLC invitation is that if there are policies restricting gaming in the city, they would have to be amended for the host municipality to be successful in its bid.
Surrey’s mayor and council decided to tell the province they aren’t interested, namely because of the smaller scope of the proposed gaming centre.
“In my opinion, gaming centres see money going out of the community, whereas a destination-type facility, with restaurants and other amenities like that, would see net inflow of capital to the city,” said Coun. Bruce Hayne (left). “I’m going to be supporting the recommendations and I see that as the way to go in Surrey.”
Mayor Linda Hepner said there will be no changes to the Surrey Gaming Policy.
“We’re staying with (the concept that) it needs to be an entertainment complex if it appears in our city,” Hepner said.
The decision to walk away from the gaming offer comes three years after a contentious application for a gaming facility in South Surrey, when Surrey city council voted 5-4 to reject a $100-million casino/hotel proposal.
That defeat prompted BCLC’s then-CEO Michael Graydon to rule out any further attempt at gambling expansion in Surrey for the foreseeable future, and to instead pursue sites with other municipalities and willing First Nations, including the Semiahmoo First Nation near the defeated South Surrey site.
“Three years have passed since that time and we can’t ignore the fact the region has seen more population growth,” BCLC spokesperson Angela Koulyras said last month.
In 2013, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson predicted heavy opposition in Delta to any new proposal there. Yet on June 27, Delta council unanimously endorsed a plan to enter the race for the new gaming centre.
George Harvie, Delta’s chief administrative officer, said staff identified the 11-acre Delta Town & Country Inn property at the intersection of Highway 99 and Highway 17A/62B Street as the only location they would support for development of a gaming facility and entertainment complex.
“It’s isolated, it’s not near schools, it’s not in the communities and people won’t be driving there through communities,” Harvie said. “The area’s sited for upgrades with the new bridge coming in, so to us it’s a perfect site.”
White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said that while casinos are a “great source of supplementary income for municipalities,” there is also a price to be paid associated with gambling.
“I don’t know that our community is ready to pay that price,” Baldwin said. “I have not heard of any desire on anybody’s part to have a casino in White Rock and council hasn’t set it as one of our goals.”
Baldwin said he had no concerns about the BCLC not including White Rock as an option for a new casino facility, noting officials likely thought it “wouldn’t work in this area, which is fine.”
Semiahmoo First Nation officials could not be reached for comment.
Local governments were not required to make a firm commitment by July 15, but only indicate in writing whether they were willing to enter the process and disclose some details on their policies and zoning, including any local regulations permitting or restricting gambling.
Gaming in Surrey has a long and storied past, one that has often been a political lightning rod for controversy.
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 Bingo Country at 7093 King George Blvd.
• 2012: Casino owner considers closing Newton Bingo Country 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 Bingo Country.
• 2016: Surrey council declines BCLC invitation to pursue hosting a new gaming facility.