Vancouver council open to increasing slots, games at existing casinos

Vancouver Sun
Vancouver council open to increasing slots, games at existing casinos
Super Slots

Vancouver city council voted this week to allow for applications to increase the number of slot machines and tables at the city’s two casinos, on the condition they be accompanied by an assessment of their social and economic impacts.

The request to amend the city’s 2011 gambling moratorium was made by the B.C. Lottery Corp., which told council the city’s population has increased 22 per cent in the past decade and that the amendment is a first step to allow BCLC to look at ways of expanding its two existing facilities — the Parq casino in Yaletown and Hastings Racecourse in East Vancouver — rather than building more casinos.

Parq is allowed to have 600 slot machines and 75 table games, while Hastings Racecourse can have 600 slot machines, but no table games. City staff said the amendment allows BCLC to submit a rezoning or development permit application for construction that includes gambling expansion. It was not clear from the meeting how many more slots or tables BCLC is seeking for the two venues.

Critics said the meeting about the staff recommendation to amend the 13-year-old moratorium seemed rushed.

“People don’t really know about this,” Sandy Garossino, a former Crown prosecutor and community advocate, said before the meeting.

In 2011, public hearings involving thousands of people and months of study led to council adopting a moratorium on any applications for expanding gaming venues in the city until BCLC conducted a comprehensive consultation on any expansion and implemented industry best practices for preventing and treating problem gambling, as well as protecting against money laundering, fraud and organized crime.

“That’s all it has to do to bring on an application, so it’s not exactly clear why the city isn’t asking for that,” said Garossino, who spoke to council ahead of the vote. “Why are they trying to get out of these very reasonable conditions?”

Council voted 5-to-3 in favour of amending the moratorium and allowing applications for gambling expansion to be received as long as they “include an assessment of the health, social, and economic impacts of the proposals.”

Councillors Adriane Carr, Pete Fry and Christine Boyle opposed the move, saying that before any applications are received there needs to be more public engagement and consideration of impacts.

Speaking to council, Garossino described the public support that came together and set the moratorium in 2011.

“They came from across the political spectrum, including dozens of churches, and especially Chinese churches that felt that their populations were being targeted. Business leaders, economists, organized crime and public health experts. Milton Wong. Bing Thom. Patrick Reid. There were thousands of people who joined the opposition the first time,” said Garossino.

Carr recalled public hearings that lasted eight days and nights in 2011.

Council heard from staff that the city receives 10 per cent of total gambling revenue, so the amount fluctuates. Prior to the pandemic, in 2017-18 and 2018-19, it was over $10 million. Parq accounted for 88 per cent of the city’s gambling revenue in 2022-23.

The city staff report said that BCLC estimates that expanding the number of slot machines would bring an additional $2.5 million to $5 million a year into city coffers, but BCLC did not give details on the scale of any expansion in terms of the numbers of slots and tables.

Garossino pointed out that Parq is performing poorly compared to its industry peers, such as the casinos in Langley, Burnaby and Richmond that have mostly recovered from the pandemic.

She said the lottery corporation should commission an independent expert assessment of Parq’s performance with verified projections.

Speaking to council, she said: “The question you in the public need to know is whether this application is due to any sales negotiations or a (letter of intent) that has been entered into because there’s a vagueness here that’s not making any sense.”

Parq had some significant financial woes leading to owners missing payments and seeking a new equity partner, Westmont Hospitality Group, in 2019 in order to refinance massive initial loans that were over $500 million.

Urban planner Andy Yan joined Garossino in questioning the rush to amend the moratorium.

“So, is this a double-down on a failing business?”

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