- BC Games
Slots in the city?
Are slot machines on the waterfront in the City of North Vancouver’s future?
A B.C. gaming centre operator eyeing the coveted Lot 5 land parcel in Lower Lonsdale for its next location says it’s prepared a comprehensive development plan, but is being stonewalled by the city because of a long-standing “prohibition” on commercial gambling.
Playtime Gaming business development coordinator Arthur Villa told council on Dec. 2 the company is not expecting an immediate resolution from the city with respect to gaming.
“However, we are asking that we be given the same treatment that would be extended to any other developer approaching the city with a proposal,” said Villa.
Playtime, the largest community gaming centre operator in the province, currently has seven locations, including two in the Fraser Valley and a few on Vancouver Island.
A community with a gaming centre receives 10 per cent of the net proceeds, under rules set out by the B.C. Lottery Corporation, which is the governing body for gaming facilities.
Last year each of those communities received close to $12.4 million, added Villa, citing figures from the B.C. Lottery Corporation’s annual report.
Playtime now has its sights set on Lot 5, after researching a number of potential new locations for the past five years.
Villa said Playtime’s proposal includes entertainment and retail elements identified in Colliers International’s Central Waterfront Retail Strategy report released in October. Those include: restaurant and retail space, hotel expansion, underground parking and public washrooms, as well as a public theatre and skating rink.
“And we believe our proposal covers much of the wish list that council has with respect to the Lower Lonsdale area, with the added benefit of being able to make all of it economically feasible,” said Villa. “Our proposal for Lot 5 could be the engine that drives a large portion of the waterfront plan.”
Following Villa’s presentation on Monday there was a council discussion prefaced by some historical background on the city’s commercial gaming policy.
“A number of years ago there was a move towards commercial gaming in the region and municipalities were trying to determine how to respond,” Gary Penway, the city’s longtime director of planning told council. “And this council at that time decided that they preferred to support the existing gaming facilities such as they were… the sort of non-profit bingos and such operations that were going on.”
The potential social implications also factored into a former council’s decision to approve a zoning bylaw clause to prohibit large-scale commercial gaming in the city.
Coun. Guy Heywood asked Villa if Playtime’s main gaming format is slot machines. Responding “Yes,” Villa also clarified the main difference between a gaming centre and a casino, saying the centre would not operate 24 hours a day. All of Playtime’s facilities open at 10 a.m. and close at 1 a.m.
Coun. Don Bell questioned Villa on whether or not Playtime has gauged the social impacts, such as crime and addiction, on a community where a new gaming centre has gone in.
“Those fears haven’t come to pass,” said Villa, adding that increased security around the centres has abated criminal activity.
In terms of addiction, Villa confirmed numbers released in a gambling study report from provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall in October. A survey done in 2007 showed a total of 4.6 per cent of British Columbians were moderate-risk or problem gamblers, representing approximately 159,000 people.
According to Villa, a rewards card that players use allows the BCLC to track where they come from and how much they are gambling.
“It may interest you to know that more than 50 per cent of people here on the North Shore frequent casino and gaming facilities across the water in Vancouver,” said Villa.
Asked Mayor Darrell Mussatto: To what extent does the gaming centre have to be on Lot 5?
“We really haven’t found a site in the city or the district that would work as well as that one, other than the Squamish First Nation land,” said Villa.
Coun. Craig Keating moved that city staff bring forward a report on the social and economic impacts of gaming in other communities.
“And I certainly think I would like to have that discussion before we begin to talk about a specific location for any kind of gaming facility in the city,” said Keating.
Heywood further moved that staff engage with the BCLC directly, saying that social services agencies somewhat rely on gaming grants.
“There’s a bit of a quid pro quo in terms of if we don’t enable them to produce the revenue that funds the gaming grants we are shirking a bit of our responsibility,” said Heywood.
Coun. Pam Bookham appeared incensed by the suggestion of a gaming centre in the city. With all due respect to the stats, said Bookham, slot machines are not something the community wants to see.
“I would have to feel a groundswell of support from our residents to even entertain the idea,” said Bookham.
Keating’s motion passed 6-1, with Coun. Bookham opposed.