Vancouver council open to increasing slots and gaming at existing casinos

The request to modify the city’s 2011 gambling moratorium was made by BC Lottery Corp.

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

The request to amend the city’s 2011 gambling moratorium was made by BC Lottery Corp., which told council that the city’s population has increased 22 percent in the last decade and that the amendment is a first step toward allow BCLC to look for ways to expand. its two existing facilities (the Parq casino in Yaletown and the Hastings Racetrack in east Vancouver) rather than building more casinos.

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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 development or rezoning permit application for construction that includes gaming expansion. It was not clear at the meeting how many more spaces or tables BCLC is seeking for the two locations.

Critics said the meeting on staff’s recommendation to modify the 13-year moratorium seemed rushed.

“People really don’t 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 the council to adopt a moratorium on any applications to expand gambling halls in the city until BCLC conducted a comprehensive consultation on any expansion and implemented best practice the industry to prevent and treat problem gambling. as well as protect against money laundering, fraud and organized crime.

“That’s all you have to do to apply, so it’s not exactly clear why the city isn’t requesting that,” said Garossino, who spoke to the council before the vote. “Why are they trying to get out of these very reasonable conditions?”

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The council voted 5-3 to amend the moratorium and allow applications for gambling expansion to be received as long as they “include an assessment of the health, social and economic impacts of the proposals.”

Councilors Adriane Carr, Pete Fry and Christine Boyle opposed the move, saying there needs to be more public engagement and consideration of impacts before any application is received.

Speaking to the council, Garossino described the public support that gathered and established the moratorium in 2011.

“They came from across the political spectrum, including dozens of churches, and especially Chinese churches that felt their populations were under attack. 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,” Garossino said.

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

Council staff heard the city receives 10 percent of total gaming revenue, so the amount fluctuates. Before the pandemic, in 2017-18 and 2018-19, it exceeded $10 million. Parq accounted for 88 percent of the city’s gaming revenue in 2022-23.

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The city staff report said 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 provide details on the scale of any expansion in terms of number of slot machines and tables.

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

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

Speaking to council, he said: “The question the public needs to know is whether this application is due to any sale negotiations or a (letter of intent) that has been entered into because there is a vagueness here that doesn’t make any sense. “

Parq had some major financial problems that led the owners to miss payments and seek a new capital partner, Westmont Hospitality Group, in 2019 to refinance huge initial loans exceeding $500 million.

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

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“So, is this a double bet for a failing business?”

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