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Rendering of the casino planned for the BC Place complex. (Handout/Handout)
Rendering of the casino planned for the BC Place complex. (Handout/Handout)

Cards now appear to be stacked against Vancouver casino expansion Add to ...

Supporters and opponents of casino expansion in Vancouver both say they believe the tide has suddenly turned against the proposal in the wake of a raucous first night of public hearings Monday that drew hundreds.

That has both sides working feverishly to influence the continuing public hearings in what now appears likely to be a much more unpredictable decision from city councillors about whether to allow Paragon Gaming to triple the size of its current casino.

"All of a sudden it's totally changed. I see there is a shift and, yes, it makes me more concerned than I was in November," said a despondent-sounding Jean Van Vliet, president of the Canadian Auto Workers local that represents the current casino's 600 workers. "Now all these people are jumping on the bandwagon to oppose this."

Ms. Van Vliet, one of the 150-plus speakers left waiting for a turn at the microphone at the end of Monday's 3 1/2-hour meeting, said she'll be fighting to remind everyone that if a casino expansion isn't approved, the existing casino and its jobs could disappear.

"It's a do or die type of situation now. [Paragon Gaming owners]have said point blank that they're not in the business of hotels, they're in the business of casinos," said Ms. Van Vliet.

On the other side, a leader of the opposition to the expansion said that he is determined to prove that there's no need for existing casino jobs to be lost.

"People felt badly Monday night with some of the stories of the employees that they were hearing," said Sean Bickerton, who helped found the Vancouver Not Vegas group that has mobilized a very vocal opposition movement in just a few weeks. "What we've tried to convey is that we are not against their jobs."

When it's his turn to speak at the hearings, Mr. Bickerton said he plans to offer an economic analysis to show that a new casino the same size as Paragon's existing Edgewater facility could do just fine.

"I don't believe they've made a solid business case. They say it's profitable. If so, why would anyone want to shut that down?"

He's encouraged in his fight by what he believes is a sea change in attitude among city councillors.

"When we began our fight, we were told this [expansion]was a done deal. But in the first night, the councillors were asking very tough, probing questions that hadn't been asked previously."

He thinks that's a sign of the decision to come.

"They've got the entire city and people from every walk of life in this weird coalition. That gives them the cover they need to do the right thing."

Paragon CEO Scott Menke said the company has no plans to give up on a casino in Vancouver if the expansion isn't approved. But, he said, he has spent four years trying to get an approval to move across the street and expand. Mr. Menke, however, made it clear Monday night that his company will not proceed with the current hotel plans if expansion is rejected.

If council turns that down, the company will have nowhere to go immediately after its current lease expires in 2013.

Those kinds of arguments - along with even more debates about projected revenues, about problem gambling, about job gains or losses, and more - are expected to take up at least another two nights of the hearings next week. It is not clear when councillors will make their decision.

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